Before she started her sleek, upscale sleepwear company about seven years ago, Ashley Merrill had an awakening.
“That’s basically where it started,” she said on the phone from California, where she is based. “I wanted something where I could still feel confident and comfortable.”
So Lunya was born, around the same time athleisure transformed the market and became ubiquitous on the street. With washable silk made out of natural fiber, the line of luxe loungewear is supposed to cool down the body and make sweat dissipate more easily, and antimicrobials knitted into the fabric prevent odors.
The company now boasts 45 employees, three brick-and-mortar stores (all playfully designed to look like bedrooms) with plans for expansion, and revenue figures in the “tens of millions.”
And she recently launched Lahgo, a men’s sleepwear line. Merrill acknowledged that keeping the men’s and women’s lines separate might be perceived as unpopular in an age when consumers, especially younger ones, are focused on inclusivity and gender fluidity — TomboyX is an example of a gender-neutral intimates startup — but she ultimately decided she didn’t want to “blend to the middle.”
“I’m all about serving the customer,” Merrill said. “So what a man might need out of a sleeper, we have seen it to be different than what a female needs.”
What’s similar about both lines of thermoregulating pajamas is the price tag — a women’s Siro Draped Jogger pant costs $118, while the men’s Restore Jogger pant runs for $138. A washable silk set sells for $178.
Merrill said she used her own money to get the company started — her husband, Marc Merrill, is co-founder of Riot Games, a video game developer valued at more than $1 billion.
“I had the luxury and ability to put our own capital into it, but I also felt a lot of pressure,” Merrill said. “I didn’t want to lose our own money.”
The 35-year-old mother of two young children started her business as she began business school, and threw herself into the industry by shadowing a friend who ran a clothing store.
She picked up business development experience — including brand building and audience acquisition — while working for Evolve Media, and she worked in venture capital for a year. She also went to culinary school.
But she kept dreaming about sleepwear.
“I realized I was lacking the passion piece, because I was meeting people all day who were trying to create change and use their passion to make something successful,” she said. “I thought that was incredibly inspiring, but I myself wasn’t doing any of that.”
After thinking about where she spends her money — and where she spends most of her time — Merrill decided to “create a uniform” for the wellness and work-from-home set.
“With the increase of amazing television, and [apps such as] Postmates, your home is becoming a place you do a lot in,” she said. “It’s not just the place you go to sleep. It’s the place you live your off hours, and who are you in those off hours?”
Looking ahead, Merrill is interested in developing more seasonal looks. “We’re not seasonal in the traditional fashion sense, but that can be inspiring for us: How do you live differently in winter than you would in the summer?”
And she’s hiring more senior leadership so she can offload some of the day-to-day responsibilities and focus on growing the company.
“Oftentimes a founder isn’t the right person to run a company long term, because what it takes to make a company successful is a different skill set than what it takes to scale a business,” Merrill said.
“I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time with my kids,” she added. “I always thought I could be somebody who could overcome really hard obstacles, but there’s no proof of that quite like actually doing it.”