As a child growing up in Thailand, Phantila Phataraprasit had a strong sense of the importance of caring for the environment instilled at a young age. Her mother operated ecolodges—hotels situated in more remote, natural areas that give visitors a more ecologically focused experience—so she understood the importance of protecting and maintaining the natural environment.
“I’d always viewed through the lens of how do you create businesses or products or services that also take into account the planet,” she said. “I was trying to be more sustainable in my own life, whether that meant eating less meat, buying more secondhand—just trying to lessen my impact on the environment.”
That environmental consciousness carried over into shopping for her home, as well. But Phataraprasit found it increasingly difficult to find furnishings that fit her eco-friendly requirements while also offering the convenience, price, and options that she desired.
“I really saw that gap in terms of the offerings available to people who cared about the environment,” she said. “And the majority of people who are driving the interest in sustainable products and purchases are younger individuals who have to consider budget.”
And while also considering the amount of waste generated by the home furnishings industry, Phataraprasit realized she wanted to launch her own sustainable furniture line. So she launched direct-to-consumer furnishings company Sabai in 2019.
Sabai started with seating—sofas, sectionals, chairs, and ottomans—custom made in a factory in High Point, N.C. Each piece in the collection is made with sustainably sourced including FSC-certified wood, CertiPUR US-certified foam, and recycled, upcycled and natural fabrics. Shoppers can choose from 10 different upholstery fabrics when ordering their sofa or chair.
The company recently expanded its product assortment to include its first foray into tables. The new City Table has a sleek, modern silhouette made with recycled steel and reclaimed wood sourced from fallen urban trees in Baltimore.
Sourcing recycled materials and manufacturing in the U.S. has helped Sabai grow considerably since its launch, particularly in the midst of shipping issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Throughout the last two years, we’ve been very insulated from the supply chain impact and shocks that the industry has seen, just because we are producing domestically,” Phataraprasit said. “So we’re still able to produce with our manufacturer and ship straight to our customers without having to be impacted, whether it’s from a cost or timing perspective, by all the chaos in the freight industry.”
Those freight savings have helped Phataraprasit achieve another key goal for the brand—making quality, sustainable furnishings that are affordable to a wider range of consumers. The line ranges from $395 for ottomans to $3,145 for a seven-seat corner sectional. Not exactly Ikea prices, but considerably less expensive than comparable custom-made products.
As the company moves forward, Phataraprasit said Sabai is pushing harder toward circularity, as well. The company recently launched two new initiatives: a furniture repair program and Sabai Revive, a recycling initiative that takes back used pieces, refurbishes them, and resells them at a discount.
Phataraprasit also recently joined the Sustainable Furnishings Council, which she hopes will connect her with other like-minded makers and companies in the furniture industry to help create greater change going forward.
“I want to continue being very involved in pushing the industry forward in terms of sustainability,” she said. “We want to continue launching new programs that think about different ways to take responsibility for our products and our impact, and set new standards within the industry for improving sustainability and reducing our impact on the environment.”