How Comfort Works Saves Sofas From The Landfill
Henry Chandra and Rachel Yeng's business success started over 10 years ago with an old, shabby sofa.
A young married couple in Melbourne, Indonesian-born Chandra and Malaysian-born Yeng were big believers in a hands-on DIY approach when it came to home improvement—even when grappling with the decision of whether to ditch or restore a tattered old sofa that Yeng's cat had a field's day with.
For the sake of their budget, the couple were forced to salvage the unfortunate couch with a lot of hard work and improvisation. Little did they know, of course, that their bespoke sofa slipcover would spark a flow of requests from friends for more covers, which soon led them to found Comfort Works.
Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Comfort Works has saved over a million sofas around the world from being thrown into landfills, especially when recycling isn't often an option. The success of Comfort Works in countries like the US, Canada, UK, Australia (where they first started) and also in Southeast Asia demonstrates a glaring pain point that many homeowners today face with big-ticket furniture items like sofas.
If your sofa is still in good condition structurally, should you spend on costly upholstering to improve its appearance? Or should you live with the mess if a new sofa isn't on the cards?
"The truth is, a lot of people are living with ugly, old sofas," muses Chandra, who worked at M&C Saatchi before starting Comfort Works. "Most of the time, it’s the skin of the sofa that’s an issue: the fabric on top is old, dirty, discoloured or torn. And if that particular sofa is discontinued and sofa covers are no longer available, there’s no other option besides upholstery or getting a new sofa. All of a sudden, you're restricted to this 'buy and throw' culture," he adds.
"We were used to doing a lot DIY stuff around our home," Yeng shares. "We would visit flee markets to buy furniture. We would sandpaper it down and paint it up. When it came to sewing, I did have a little experience with curtains and bedsheets back from when I used to do an interior design gig," she adds.
With sheepish grins, the couple recounts the experience they went through to give their old sofa a new lease of life.
"We took it upon ourselves to try to make a cover for the sofa," shares Chandra. "We had the existing product, the instruction sheets and the templates, so we sort of deconstructed, reverse-engineered it and built our own panels."
"Well, 'reverse-engineered' is a bit of a big word," Yeng interjects with mirth. "We watched a lot of YouTube videos, borrowed a second-hand sewing machine and made our first attempt at our own sofa cover.
Henry Chandra worked at M&C Saatchi before cofounding Comfort Works with his wife, Rachel
"Once we fixed up our own sofa, friends started asking us if we had bought a new one," Yeng continues. "The next question they asked was, 'Can you also make a sofa slipcover for me?' That's really how Comfort Works started."
From a two-person team, Comforts Works opened the Malaysian headquarters in 2013 with just three employees, expanding into the 120-strong team it has today with offices from Australia to China.
Orders surged from all over the world for Comfort Works' practical and stylish sofa slipcovers, a heaven-sent solution for homeowners who needed a stain-concealing, pet-friendly covering for their furniture (and one that didn't break the bank or involve a moving truck). Today, customers can select from a rapidly growing library of sofa covers according to brand and sofa type, or they can opt for personalised coverings, selecting the fabric and style that best suits their needs.
"We've been growing the library of sofas and brands that we offer. The more brands we cover, the easier it will be for customers to find a solution that fits them," Chandra says. "Every day, customers from all over the world ask us to do their couches, naming models, designs and brands that we’ve never even heard of. We know that there’s still a need, and we try our best to fulfil these needs."
In a chat with Tatler Malaysia, Chandra and Yeng reveal how Comfort Works achieves their mission to promote sustainable living at home and to change perceptions about the reusability of 'waste furniture' today.
Comfort Works saved a million sofas from landfills. How do you feel about this achievement?
Chandra: When we realised that we had saved a million sofas, we were like, "Wow, that’s a big number."
Yeng: But then we asked ourselves, "Where do we go from here?" There’s still so much more we can do.
Chandra: Truthfully, we have barely touched any significant metrics. We don’t aspire to become a massive furniture brand. Our purpose is very niche and simple—every sofa needs a new life, and we can do that for you.
What was the earliest milestone for Comforts Works?
Yeng: It was after we started getting requests for covers and when we started putting up our designs on Gumtree (the equivalent of Mudah.com over here) and Ebay. Only we forgot to turn off the 'international shipping' component on Ebay, and people from overseas started ordering the slipcovers too.
Chandra: I still remember our first international order placed by a Japanese American lady. Back then, we were still shipping things manually, so we packaged it up, went down to the post office, got a quote, and paid a shipping cost of A$185 to ship a parcel to the other side of the world.
How else does Comfort Works promote sustainability, besides sofa slipcovers?
Yeng: We don't use plastic packaging, and all of our covers come in a reusable drawstring bag—it looks like Christmas every time someone opens it. You can use this bag to store your old covers, place your laundry in it, or whatever you like. We also don’t have any printed instructions so there's no paper wastage. Instead, we have little sewn-in labels throughout the sofa slipcovers with little details that say, "Hi, I’m the front of your sofa". People just get it so quickly.
Every time someone places an order, they get a fabric sample that's made from the offcuts, so we don’t use new fabric as samples. We’ve also introduced the zero-waste programme, encouraging all our old covers to be made into bento box wrappers, grocery bags, napkins and more. We’re trying to teach people different ways to reuse what they have and prove that you can always find a creative way to extend the life of a material.
What's the most important message you want to send to the public through Comfort Works?
Chandra: We hope to raise awareness that there’s always a more sustainable option for everything we do. In the bigger picture, I would like to see more people seeing slipcovers as an alternative option to throwing the whole couch away.
Yeng: As consumers, we can’t control how furniture is produced or where it ends up, but we can help with the ‘when’. We can help extend the lifespan of that sofa. Whether it be with a change of slipcovers (especially if the bones of your sofa are still good), you can choose to slipcover it, donate it, or sell it instead of just throwing it away. We want more people to know that there is a second option beyond just throwing it away.
- ImagesComfort Works