Comfort Works was set up with one ultimate goal in mind – to empower homeowners to live beautifully. It all started from an old, tired IKEA Karlanda sofa, which Rachel brought along with her when she moved in with her then boyfriend, Henry. To fix this sofa ‘situation’, they decided to make a slipcover, with the help of a couple of YouTube tutorials and a second-hand sewing machine.
Comfort Works now creates slipcovers that give sofas a brand new look, helping people worldwide to upgrade their homes without sending old sofas to a landfill. Made up of a diverse group of people from all over the world, the organisation emphasises on people over profits, prioritising culture and work policies that best benefit the ones who matter most – their employees. Comfort Works is also on a steadfast mission to convince the world that a beautiful sofa cover is a more sustainable option than buying a new couch. In achieving this, Comfort Works aims to become the world’s largest sofa cover provider by 2030.
Recently we caught up with Henry and Rachel and dig more about what they are up to lately at Comfort Works
Hello Henry and Rachel. I’m a big fan of sofa slipcovers as they really help make my living room alive. To me, it is one of the coolest inventions ever. I want to know more about Comfort Works and how the company truly helps homeowners from all over the world like me live beautifully, without sending too many old sofas to a landfill but first I want to ask you this, who is actually Henry Chandra and Rachel Yeng as a person and as a professional?
Henry: I’m Henry Chandra, a marketer and a filmmaker by trade, part business owner, father of two little ones, and a design enthusiast. My personal purpose is to make a form of positive connection with people of all backgrounds all over the world. Professionally, my purpose is to build a good company where a sustainability-driven business and a great workplace meets. My definition of a sustainability-driven business is one where we add value to the world, and a good workplace is one where good people get to do great work, constantly grow, and then get recognised and rewarded for their success.
Rachel: I’m Rachel. A mother of 2 munchkins at home and the “mama bear” for 100 people in the company. Being in a business and a mom, the thing I’ve learnt is that there is always a way (to solve problems). My job is to drive things forward or to clear the path for my guys towards favourable outcomes.
Which part of Comfort Works are you focusing on actually?
Henry: Daily, I focus on removing any kind of barriers and blockers holding up my team’s work. Operationally, my focus shifts every year or two. The past year or so, I’ve been paying more attention to our Manufacturing, Finance, and Organisational Management.
Rachel: I run the People and Product divisions. I’m responsible for making great culture and great products. Some might think that they are two very different roles, but, to me it’s all about solving your customer’s problems and designing (employee and customer) lifecycles.
Tell me more about Comfort Works.
Henry and Rachel: Comfort Works is challenging the upholstery industry on a global scale. It was set up with one goal in mind, to help homeowners live beautifully. It all started with an old IKEA sofa which Rachel brought in with her when she moved in.
The product was discontinued a few years back, so we decided to sew our own sofa slipcovers. A couple of YouTube tutorials and a second-hand sewing machine later, much to our surprise, the slipcovers caught the eye of our friends and families. It was a DIY project which turned into a side gig, and somehow ended up becoming a business.
Fast forward to today, Comfort Works creates custom-made slipcovers that give sofas all over the world a brand new look, helping people worldwide to upgrade their homes without sending old sofas to a landfill.
We are also privately owned and never had outside funding. Our teams are based predominantly in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Shenzhen, China. In Shenzhen, our workshop focuses their energies on production, logistics, and sourcing. In Kuala Lumpur, the team is accountable for sales, marketing, design, products, and customer service.
As an organisation, we’re committed generalists, conscientious workers, and believers in doing what’s right and what’s essential. No heroics. We are not about moving heaven and earth. Yes, we want to be proud of running a globally-competitive business but we also want to be kind, considerate, fair, flexible, and calm. Especially in a crisis.
An entrepreneur, is this something you wish to become since schooling days or it wasn’t planned after all?
Henry: No for me. I always feel that the whole journey has been serendipitous. I was in a somewhat comfortable job when the whole thing began, and was basically acting as a part-time hand for whatever Rachel needed help with. Over time, I don’t know when exactly, the whole thing slowly morphed and took on a life of its own. I secretly think that Rachel has a lot more entrepreneurial spirit than what I was led to believe.
Rachel: Not really. I was in my 3rd year of university, planning for a career in management consultancy, designing homes, and upcycling old furniture as a side gig. If you asked me to think of an idea for a business, I wouldn’t be able to think of a good one. We simply found a problem in our lives that other people had. I believe the only thing that was planned is having the courage to go all in. You have to give 100% and you have to be committed. Solving the problem has to be personal or else you’re going to disintegrate.
What were some of the challenges faced early on in Comfort Works’ journey?
Henry: We never had investors or mentors to turn to for advice, so we learnt everything by making mistakes and getting a bit bruised here and there. We also spent our weekends giving out flyers in Victoria Gardens (Richmond, VIC), which is a shopping centre where IKEA is located. We secretly placed flyers on the cars in the parking lots.
When we moved to China, we were still bootstrapping and did everything ourselves. We had to walk down the textile market, carrying a few rolls of fabric during the day, and juggled multiple roles as a web developer, photographer, marketer, and packing specialist at night. I also fondly remember Rachel packing and wrestling with products that weighed 10 kilos.
We also ate on a makeshift cardboard-box-turned-coffee-table as the dining table was filled with fabrics and slept on sofa beds that we experimented our covers on.
Looking back at your journey, what are some of the key achievements, to date?
Rachel: Several key areas stand out. We are on a strong trajectory to build the largest sofa slipcover library in the world. We have also expanded into non-English markets including Japan, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and have saved over a million sofas from landfills, to date.
Additionally, we started a family with the birth of our first child in 2013, while Comfort Works was still in the early stages. Imagine having a tough conversation with an overseas customer on the phone while babysitting a newborn. Big win.
Henry: For me, it’s having the same core team who started on this remarkable journey 10 years ago, still going strong with us, and having the team refer to Comfort Works as “Our Company” and not “This Company”. It was also a huge moment for me when we signed a lease for our first workshop in Shenzhen and grew an international team of 100 that trusts each other across the ocean.
What is it like working with each other?
Henry: It’s fun, mostly, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s also challenging. Early days were a bit more hunky dory, as things were akin to an adventure. But things started to change once we started having more people in the company. Things that used to be simple (communication, roles, and responsibilities) started to get more complicated, with each additional person joining the team.
We then learned that we needed to draw a very clear line of communication and area of work. We started with laying down our individual strengths and deciding which part of the business we should be taking care of. From there, we were clear about what our expectations and end goal would be. I personally think that this is partly why everything in our organisation is so transparent and visible to everyone internally.
Rachel: Building a business while starting a family has been grueling, exciting, inspiring, and exhausting. I’m grateful for doing this with Henry – he always pushes me to grow and to punch above my weight. He genuinely cares about people and will always find a way to make things work.
I agree with him about drawing lines, though. Very early on, we discovered a simple process to break down the way we work because we were complete opposites in terms of interest and skill sets. So, he was in charge of any function that made money (sales, marketing, finance) and I was in charge of spending it (product, R&D, design, etc). It worked for us and he made it fun for me.
The importance of being a people-first organisation is crucial in this era. How does Comfort Works practice this?
Rachel: We believe that culture is built by the people. If you have found a company that you love to work in, you are equally responsible for guarding and shaping your experience there. So, we encourage everyone from all levels and departments to be involved in creating the best place to work in. This only works because we all have this unshakable belief that everyone at Comfort Works wants to do good work and to do the right thing.
We are also constantly pushing each other out of our comfort zones and questioning our current practices, standards, and the way we work. We try not to place our entire focus on “company policy” but we constantly fight for the more “human” approach to doing things. We value clarity and kindness, even when chasing goals, profits, or speaking our truths.
Henry: Whenever possible, we put ourselves in the shoes of our people and consider what or how a decision would affect us, should it befall on us. Deciding what’s good for the company should always benefit our people in the long-term.
The other thing we do is to always have a long-term perspective on things. So what would happen next year if we do this now and what about in the next 3, 5 or 10 years time? We also don’t always make the right decision, but we try to be as transparent when we make one and share the “why” to the team. Truthfully, we’ve made bad decisions on numerous occasions. But when we do, we communicate it with the team, and then get to work right away on rectifying, and, again, to communicate.
Where do you actually see the global slipcover industry heading to in 2021 onwards?
Henry & Rachel: One key trend that stands out is how consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the environment and sustainability. This fits perfectly with our vision as Comfort Works aims to convince the world that we do not constantly need everything to be shiny and brand new. Instead, it’s about seeing how we can be more conscious in our habits and choosing to live our lives differently, starting with saving our sofas.
Your HQ is based in Malaysia. Being a local company, how do you compete on a global scale?
Rachel & Henry: It’s all down to our team and their diverse skill sets. We invest our time building teams of people from diverse backgrounds to reflect our global audience. 50% of our team are non-locals, making us a highly international team. They are well-equipped with the right tools to help grow our business internationally. This helps in execution and understanding customer requests from different regions, adapting designs to cater to their needs and wants, as well as selecting the right product for the right people.
I noticed that you have a diverse working team, what do you look for in your employees?
Rachel: We look for those who aim high, work hard and care deeply about others. I think the commonality that all of us have is that we are problem solvers at heart and that we appreciate the hustle when it comes to being a lean team.
Henry: We look for a great attitude. We can train people up for skill, but we can’t do it for attitude.
How does the vision of becoming the world’s largest sofa slipcover provider by 2030 really come about?
Henry: I think we’ve largely been guided by what the world needs. The vision simply became larger as we kept marching onwards this journey. What started with a single, old IKEA sofa, slowly became IKEA’s biggest sofa catalog – yes, even those from the 90s. Eventually, more customers came to us regardless of sofa shapes and sizes, from all over the world. Getting nudges from customers all over the world to service their markets really reinforces what we believe in. Today our services are available to over 40 different countries and counting.
Do you mind sharing with me some of the coolest slipcover images Comfort Works ever designed and what makes them really hot in the market?
Our slipcovers are all customer-handmade-to-order. We’d like to think that we empower our customers to become their own designers, all we do is really give recommendations as to what suits their living and aesthetic needs the most. So we suppose what makes them hot is giving our customers the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind, unique look that best represents their personal style. Here are some examples of our slipcovers and what makes them unique:
Some customers prefer their slipcovers to have some accents. Here’s one where the customer wanted contrast piping.
And some customers prefer a snug fit. Who knew you could do this with faux leather, right?
Then there are the customers who simply go back to basics to achieve a timeless look.
What would be your advice to customers out there when choosing the right slipcovers for their beloved sofas?
Henry: Start by deciding what you want out of the furniture. Is it a feature piece? Is it a highly trafficked piece? How messy and low maintenance do you want it to be? Do you have a look you want to emulate? The truth is, you can’t have it all, there’s some tradeoffs to be made here and there. The prettiest linen may not be the easiest to clean and the softest covers may not be the most durable. But fabric technology is constantly evolving, the gap between comfort, aesthetics and durability are constantly closing in, even our fabric libraries are constantly being updated every 2 years for yarn and finishing improvements.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
We would love to hear from your readers! You can connect with us on LinkedIn (Henry and Rachel). Alternatively, feel free to check out our Instagram and Facebook page, or visit our website at comfort-works.com.