When Andy Spade launched Sleepy Jones in 2013, with an event in a small downtown hotel featuring models lounging around in various rooms wearing the brand's pajamas, we were instantly drawn to the clever branding, the comfortably chic product and the underlying concept: that pajamas should not only be worn in bed. At the same time, despite Spade's long and successful career in retail and branding, we truly wondered if a pajama-based business was really scalable, and whether he could actually get people to spend over $200 on a PJ set under the pretense that they could also wear them outside of the house. Well, more than three years, two permanent brick-and-mortar stores and several more-expensive competitors later, it appears that he could.
The company has been steadily expanding, opening stand-alone stores in SoHo and Santa Monica, a pop-up on West Hollywood, as well on top of over 100 wholesale accounts including Barneys, Net-a-Porter, Nordstrom and Saks. In addition, it has a thriving business in Japan, where there's apparently an entire apparel category called "roomwear," for which Sleepy Jones is a perfect fit. Sales have been doubling year-over-year (the brand declined to reveal exact numbers) and profits are strong, with marketing costs kept pretty low. (Spade also co-owns branding studio Partners & Spade, where J.Crew, Warby Parker and Filson are among his clients.)
Spade and I caught up at the Sleepy Jones New York outpost on Howard Street, neighboring similarly cool, well-branded, millennial-targeted brands like Reformation, Opening Ceremony, Retrosuperfuture and Smile to Go (the latter is food, but it's hip and it counts). The colorful, cheeky store stood in stark contrast to the vibe of the day, which happened to be Nov. 10. "Everyone needs a national stay at home day," Spade said both jokingly and sadly as we all mentioned we'd spent most of Nov. 9 in our pajamas. He sarcastically said he regretted not offering a promotion that day with a free box of tissues with every set of pajamas. "We missed that opportunity didn't we? Couldn't have seen it coming."
You get the sense from Spade that, in addition to being clever, he doesn't miss opportunities often. For him, Sleepy Jones was never meant to begin and end with pajamas. In fact, he has an entire lifestyle concept in mind and a brain overflowing with ideas about how he can essentially turn Sleepy Jones into the next athleisure.
Sleepy Jones is one of many modern brands that rejects the idea that entirely new collections need to be produced each season, instead ensuring that customers are able to find the classic, exceptionally tailored PJ silhouettes they love year-round. To add newness, the brand regularly introduces seasonal fabrics, prints done in collaboration with like-minded artists, and gradually, on-brand extensions of the "not quite ready-to-wear" concept. Just this month, Sleepy Jones launched childrenswear, collaborating with J.Crew's Crewcuts on a line of adorable onesies for toddlers. It also joined forces with writer David Coggins on a quintessential grandpa cardigan among other items, and has introduced a full assortment of unfussy and comfort-driven women's underwear.
"I see the whole category growing in the same way that athleisure exists today," he explained. "I think that in our near future there will be departments in some stores that represent this idea, which I'm just calling 'atleisure' right now, but basically it's 'relaxwear' or casual/comfortwear." He's still working on nailing down that name.
In the beginning, Spade was inspired by the way he saw artists and writers living in New York — often working from home — spontaneously going out for lunch or drinks in casual clothes, and generally living like nomads. But now, he's correctly noticed that it's not just artists who work from home; many people (like me), whose work is primarily done on a computer, enjoy the flexibility of working remotely. And that segment of consumers is projected to grow rapidly. According to a 2010 study, 40 percent of American workers, or 60 million people, are expected to be freelancers by the year 2020. Spade also noted the growing popularity of wellness activities that don't involve exercise but still require comfortable clothing, like meditation and spa treatments. "Most people don't actually work out in their athleisure-wear, so we create the leisure part, but we don’t do a lot of the ath part," he said.
There's also an aesthetic point of differentiation between Sleepy Jones's yet-to-be-named category and athleisure. "We're saying you can dress comfortably and look really chic and stylish; in my opinion, sometimes athleisure doesn't look that way." Spade gives his wife, Frances Valentine co-founder Kate Valentine (formerly Spade) as an example of a chic Sleepy Jones client. "Katie," as he calls her, "lives in our pajamas. She's in our pajamas 24/7. She'll throw a coat over it and wear it with a pair of loafers." Currently, the brand's best-selling items are women's pajama tops and men's pajama bottoms — presumably because women are more likely to wear a pajama top out. (Store employees often see customers pair them with Levi's 501s, and men are likely to pair PJ bottoms with T-shirts).
So what's next? Spade has already begun, and plans to continue, branching out into other items that people might not traditionally view as pajamas, like classic button downs and chino-like pants, that are still comfortable enough for non-narcoleptics to fall asleep in. "If you can make a comfortable pajama, you can obviously make a comfortable shirt, make a comfortable pant," he explained. He also wants to launch candles, soaps, toothbrushes, pillows, kids' sleep toys, sleeping bags, bean bag chairs, books — basically anything and everything that falls under the "bedtime" umbrella. "We might sell TVs," he added without any detectable humor.
Around the same time Spade launched Sleepy Jones, a number of high-end, sleep-focused brands started popping up: There's The Sleep Shirt and super-luxurious For Restless Sleepers providing fashion-y sleepwear, along with Casper for mattresses and Brooklinen and Parachute for sheets. Plus, this year's best-selling book The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, paired with that new Bedtime feature on your iPhone, helped to get people thinking about sleep more than ever. Spade said that when designers started incorporating pajama dressing into their runway collections a few years ago (which they haven't stopped doing), he thought, "no one really is focused on building a whole world around this." As the idea catches on, he predicts department stores will start putting the brand with ready to-wear in addition to the sleep/loungewear section, noting that that's how it's done in Japan, "and they're usually ahead of the curve."
This is all to say that we should've withheld our doubt back in 2013; clearly, Spade is onto something.