The East Liberty plaza that houses Trader Joe’s looks like an ordinary American urban shopping plaza. But nestled on the third floor of one of the buildings is Ascender, a coworking space and business incubator that houses a handful of budding businesses, nonprofits and startups.
One of those residents is Allison Howard. Sitting down with Howard and her team, she hands me what is the end product of more than two years of hard work — a pillowcase.
However, it’s not just any ordinary pillowcase.
The texture is hard to perfectly describe. It’s not starchy or stiff like a typical cotton pillowcase, but it’s also not as slippery as satin. Secondly, it’s not even close to anything you could purchase in a store. In fact, it’s an entirely new type of material that has never before been engineered — a proprietary combination of natural and synthetic yarns.
Your Sheets & Your Skin
The material is what drove the busy mother of two with a background in chemical engineering and material science to leave her career in the corporate world and start her own textile company. After waking up one day and realizing that her skin looked “slept on,” instead of turning to a new serum or skin treatment, Howard honed in on a completely neglected aspect in most people’s skin care routines. It was one that most people don’t really think much about at all — bedding.
Howard learned that bedding made from cotton causes friction and other unwanted effects on the skin. Silk and satin help to reduce friction but don’t necessarily regulate moisture loss or temperature.
“You spend up to a third of your day with your face in close contact with this fabric,” Howard says, referring to your bedding. In perspective, that adds up to one-third of your life.
The problem? There was no material on the market that could simultaneously control for friction, moisture and temperature, three properties Howard nailed down that were essential for skin health in relation to fabric. Howard set out to change that. With a little faith, she found herself at a cosmetics conference, enlisting the help of a skin care expert, the former research and development director of Estée Lauder.
Fast-forward to today. Through her company Nollapelli, Howard is engineering smarter fabrics and products to maximize skin health, such as preventing aging and acne while we sleep. The bedding is now available for sale on the company’s website to individual consumers and businesses such as spas and hotels.
Product Testing at a Pittsburgh Hotel
For Howard, a Pitt graduate, Pittsburgh has been a good place to turn her vision into reality. Ascender has played an integral role, along with the broader Pittsburgh community.
Nollapelli debuted its bedding at Mansions on Fifth, a hotel in Oakland, where both guests and housekeepers reported positive experiences, including that the material dried much faster than regular sheets.
The Mansions on Fifth trial run gave Howard the feedback she was hoping for. Since then, the bedding has made its way across the country. It is currently featured at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess hotel spa in Arizona.
What’s Next for Nollapelli?
Howard plans to keep pushing the envelope of fabric capabilities through continued research and development. An eye mask is in the pipeline, as well as ideas for future products such as gloves and shorts.
Yet the science-based textile company isn’t without a holistic context; the name Nollapelli itself is derived from the Finnish word for “love,” which to Howard perfectly sums up her mission to promote proactive self-care and wellness.