Jiake Liu was in China visiting relatives and touring their patio furniture factory when it occurred to him that the outdoor furniture market had remained stagnant for years. He didn’t know all that much about the business, but he had a long and very successful history of investing in and building tech startups. He had received many messages through LinkedIn, so he decided to send one of his own. Like picking a name out of a hat, he emailed Terry Lin, an executive at Casper Sleep who had previously been head of furniture design for the Pottery Barn. Terry answered, they met, discussed their individual strengths and goals, and founded Outer with Jiake as CEO and Terry as CDO (Chief Design Officer). Their mission: to reinvent outdoor furniture so that it is as comfortable as our beds, as stylish as our indoor furniture and as durable as our camping gear, while keeping itself dry and clean.
Outer furniture has a proprietary fabric that has the properties of an organic fabric, but the performance characteristics of outdoor apparel. It is waterproof, UV protected and resistant to stains, mold and mildew. The comfortably firm cushions are made of multi-layer, eco-friendly foam with an extra breathable layer that keeps the foam dry. A patent-pending OuterShell™ is an integrated cover that protects the cushions from everyday dirt and debris and morning dew. Just roll the cover over the cushions. The cover can also be attached to the bottom of the cushion to keep it in place during storms or to carry the cushions easily.
The all-weather wicker is easy to maintain, durable and UV-resistant. The furniture can be left outside all year. It is designed to take whatever nature throws at it: scorching temperatures, burning sun, wilting humidity, heavy rain, sub-freezing temperatures and snow. It is even impervious to the “sea air” (salt) that is the bane of outdoor furniture in coastal locations.
Also, 30% of each chair is made up of recycled materials and about 100 plastic bottles and is 100% recyclable.
To ensure comfort for the most people possible, the design dimensions factor in a diverse range of body types, heights, leg lengths and padding preferences that result in a frame that is generous in proportion and size.
Another part of Jiake and Terry’s mission was to have the furniture produced in a factory committed to fair labor practices and pays a living wage, provides benefits and ensures safe and humane working conditions. In other words, a factory like the one owned and operated by Jiake’s relatives. And that’s where the furniture is produced. The region has a centuries-long history of bamboo weaving, and the all-weather wicker is hand-woven and assembled by highly skilled artisans. Factory workers hand-cut the frames and then spot weld them. Fabrics and cushions are hand-sewn.
Jiake and Terry have implemented an ingenious marketing program: the Neighborhood Showroom. Customers of Outer can become “hosts” and turn their backyards, decks, patios into showrooms. Potential customers make an appointment to see the furniture as it is used and talk with the host is already living with it. Hosts are never prompted about what to say nor do they receive a commission on sales. They are paid per showing. No high pressure sales tactics with Outer. If they care to take advantage of it, hosts can receive complimentary styling services from Terry for their outdoor living spaces. The hosts also receive the benefit of meeting new people and may be able to do some networking of their own.