Bedding, pillows, bath textiles, specially-designed furniture and eco-friendly cleaning supplies suddenly capture the spotlight at Esalen as it moves deeper into a commitment to expand diversity in the business as well as its eco-consciousness.
Guest Services has brought Robin Wilson Home into the fold. An expert on eco-friendly sustainability and Clean Design protocols for interior design, Robin is founder and CEO of her booming conglomerate and an award-winning author of two books, including Clean Design: Wellness for Your Lifestyle.
Her firm will ensure that the products being used on campus, including new bedding, pillows, pillow cases, sheets, comforters, lamps, nightstands, bath textiles and more, are sourced in a sustainable way and meet compliance with the décor guidelines from the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
“We hope that this will extend the positive energy when a guest returns home,” Robin says.
Director of Guest Services Stephanie Lewis discovered Robin’s work while researching environmentally friendly businesses. She knew immediately that Robin and her work would be a stellar fit on campus. “Esalen was in need of a vendor to supply high-quality, hospitality-grade linens, guest room amenities and guest room furniture, and in light of the social issues, we wanted to also support BIPOC-owned businesses that aligned with our mission as a non-profit organization,” Stephanie says.
“But I realized it was very difficult to find a Black-owned business supplying hospitality linens. Robin was able to share the difficulties of breaking into the hospitality linen business. She has been so thorough and provides the most amazing customer service I have ever had while working with linen vendors. I am excited for our partnership to grow. She is also working on customizing an Esalen-branded yoga kit.”
A dynamic businesswoman, Robin has shared her wisdom on The Today Show, HGTV’s Selling New York and The Doctors. Her textile products are available at well-known brands such as Bed Bath & Beyond, JCPenney and Kohl’s. As one of the pioneers of the eco-friendly design movement, she is also the second African American brand (after B. Smith) to have a line at Bed Bath & Beyond and the first African American brand to have a nationally sold cabinetry line.
Robin shares more about her business approach and the unique evolution of her own journey with Esalen News:
Esalen News: What makes partnering with Esalen particularly unique at this time and what do you hope will be the best possible outcome?
Given the global pandemic, it is critical that people find a place of sanctuary and meditation within themselves, or find a place where they can unplug to hear the “quiet” within themselves. Stress is known to cause inflammation, and if you live in a holistic manner, then a high-performing person must take time for their physical health, such as yoga, walking, biking and mental health—meditation, quiet and unplugging.
We all need to know that we will have a place to go to get away from everything. Maybe watching that sunset or sunrise will heal us a bit. Certainly, it can allow you to refill your energy so you can keep your focus. I was inspired about Esalen for those very reasons.
What sparked the decision to include allergen-safe products in your work?
I grew up in Austin, Texas. I had allergies, asthma and I was diagnosed as pan-allergic, which basically means being allergic to everything—from pollen and pets to certain foods and detergents. I was “that” kid who some people in the 1970s thought was a picky eater, who had to bring my sheets to a sleepover and my parents had to ask in advance if someone had a pet at their home.
When I started my firm, I had to remain authentic to my clients and also keep job sites clean and nontoxic so that I would not go home wheezing and sneezing. I became one of the early adopters of low-to-no-VOC paints and also started educating clients about eco-friendly options that would work for their lifestyle.
As a pioneer in this field, I remember when it was called “wellness,” then it was called “green” and then “eco-friendly,” and now the cycle starts again—but with an added focus on sustainability. Whatever one wants to call it, my thought is that our role as consumers is to make sure that we are eco-conscious—for our personal ecosystem and for the Earth.
What don’t most people know about the cleaning protocols of linen or pillows?
As mentioned in my book, Clean Design: Wellness for Your Lifestyle, the protocol is based on cleanliness. Given that we all sleep one-third of our lives, our bedrooms need to be nontoxic and healthy for us. Since many people keep pillows for six to nine years, they need to know that their pillow weighs more than when they bought it, so they need to change their pillow—this is due to accumulation of skin cells, dust mites and more. My firm recommends following the Rule of 3, which we created several years ago, and which applies to down alternative pillows:
What immediately comes to mind knowing that Robin Wilson Home was the second African American brand to have a line in Bed Bath & Beyond and the first African American brand to have a nationally sold kitchen cabinetry line?
When you are an entrepreneur, you go through so many cycles, especially as a woman of color, where private equity/venture capital funding never arrived. There were times early on when I had literally $1.23 in my bank account, while making sure my employees were paid. We built the firm from friends and family investments, and even though we have had revenue all these years, the goal is to continue our partnerships with hospitality brands so that we can grow organically.
Since the #supportblackbusiness movement started in June 2020, our sales and brand recognition have increased after articles in New York Magazine and Real Simple magazine. Other publications added our firm onto the lists of brands to support. I am so grateful. It has been a challenge sometimes to keep my dream, and I appreciate the recognition.
Do you sense a sea change occurring in terms of big businesses, such as Bed Bath & Beyond, being more inclusive to African American-owned businesses?
Entrepreneurs are always working to fill a niche that may not be served, and right now it is key to recognize that my brand is one of the few that has been sold nationwide at a national retailer. My firm has licensed our brand and we have the team, distribution and product design capability. It is my hope that someone will open the shelves—and not just the online segment of their retail business, as businesses owned by people of color deserve to be represented at a global level, too.
We are in the process of creating a sub-brand that will continue a lifestyle focus, and maybe a private equity/investment group/venture partner will have interest in helping us grow this to another level. There are so many people who are eco-conscious and need hypoallergenic products given that one in five people suffer from allergies. That comes to more than 60 million Americans who could be “found” consumers.
How has this work helped you expand your human potential?
Gratitude is the key to success. You don’t deserve it. You are given a chance and if you perform, then you earn the next opportunity. I think entrepreneurship tests your mettle for both success and failure. You must be grateful for the opportunity and recognize that if you get up to go to work with excitement, even when you cannot pay yourself, then you must be chasing your dream. There is an old saying: “If you find your passion, then going to work every day is not a job.”