The first time Amanda John glimpsed a Barefoot Dreams blanket, she was watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

“Khloé was wearing her little leopard blanket and I was like, ‘What is that?’ Then, when I Googled it, I had a little bit of sticker shock,” said John, who lives in Atlanta and whose blog, Strawberry Chic, focuses on “sharing style for the everyday girly girl.”

John received a gift card, then waited for a sale, to finally buy her own. Now, “I have two or three of the blankets, maybe. I have a robe. I think two cardigans,” she said. “I’m pregnant right now with my first, and I’ve even got her first Barefoot Dreams blanket ready to go.”

To look at the unassuming blob of oatmeal-colored fuzz is not to understand why celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Kate Hudson and Chrissy Teigen swaddle themselves in Barefoot Dreams; why the blankets consistently sell out during Nordstrom’s big annual sale; why bloggers, influencers and YouTubers painstakingly weigh the $180 price tag with their followers.

But after a brutal winter, closing out Year 1 of a pandemic, many have sought relief in the nubby fabric: a nation of Linuses with blankets spread across laptopped laps, grasped tight in anxious fingers.

“It is the ultimate comfort lifestyle brand,” Melia McGee, merchandise director of home goods at Nordstrom, wrote in an email of Barefoot Dreams. “We see a lot of repeat customers for the brand who may start out by purchasing an entry item like a pair of slippers, and expand their collection to include multiple throw blankets for every room in their house.”

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Kelsey Boyanzhu with her Barefoot Dreams blankets in San Rafael, California. (Kelsey McClellan / The New York Times)
Kelsey Boyanzhu with her Barefoot Dreams blankets in San Rafael, California. (Kelsey McClellan / The New York Times)

“That’s obviously where I’ve spent more of my money — having this sense of feeling comfortable and cozy during a time that is kind of traumatic,” said Kelsey Boyanzhu, who blogs for Blondes & Bagels in San Francisco. “I make money from affiliate links on my website and I’ve absolutely seen a shift. I saw traffic to some of my most popular fashion posts plummet off a cliff.”

But her December 2020 post, “Are Barefoot Dreams Blankets Worth It?” is now one of her most popular. “We’re not necessarily looking for a handbag in the same way that we’re looking for a blanket,” she said.

Indeed.

‘It’s very spongy’

While Barefoot Dreams only recently seems to be everywhere, it was actually founded in 1995 by Annette Cook, a mother of young children who started a line of baby clothes and products from her garage in Burbank, California.

She traveled to trade shows in Las Vegas and boutiques around the country, and she trademarked the term “CozyChic” in 2002. In 2003, Oprah Winfrey named the robe one of her “favorite things.”

Cook died in 2012 from cancer, but her husband, Stan, has remained on as CEO, her brother-in-law Steve serves as sales director, and her son Grayson, 25, has joined the business.

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“She put her whole life into this,” Steve Cook said. “She hasn’t seen what it is today, but she had a pretty good idea of what was happening and where it was going.”

Thanks in part to the company’s PR firm, Rogers & Cowan, a parade of celebrities now post Barefoot Dreams blankets; there are pictures of Kate Hudson’s teenage son, Ryder, sprawled on a white throw, or Chrissy Teigen’s toddlers with creamy leopard print puddled at their feet.

“I use mine 365. It stretches and wraps over your shoulders and feet and nothing else compares,” Teigen tweeted about her blanket in 2019. She has also touted a full outfit, top and bottoms, from the line in Instagram Stories.

“She even said, ‘Oh, if you make a scrunchie, I will wear a scrunchie, too,’” said Frederic Barrouquere, the sales manager at Barefoot Dreams. “Well, we’re going to do some scrunchies!”

QVC reported strong sales of Barefoot Dreams apparel in the pandemic, especially the wrap and cardigans, and Steve Cook said that with “everybody dressing down and wanting to get comfy,” the company did exceptionally well last year and vowed “this year, we’re going to be double that.”

Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe said she has been “a forever fan” of the company, especially the ponchos. “Their robes also make the best gifts,” she said.

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The exceptional softness of the polyester microfiber fabric is what seems to make fans at first touch. “The hand feel is definitely unique. It’s very spongy,” Boyanzhu said. “I haven’t felt a fabric quite the same as that.”

Kelsey Boyanzhu’s cat, Popcorn, also enjoys the Barefoot Dream blanket. (Kelsey McClellan / The New York Times)
Kelsey Boyanzhu’s cat, Popcorn, also enjoys the Barefoot Dream blanket. (Kelsey McClellan / The New York Times)

‘The coastal vibe’

“This is not your father’s polyester,” said Deborah Young, a textile historian and professor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, of the fabric used to make Barefoot Dreams. “Microfiber is incredibly fine, like silk. We never managed to imitate silk chemically, but ultimately came closer by making one finer than silk.”

Of course, Barefoot Dreams isn’t the only manufacturer of synthetic fluff. Its competitors have similarly dreamy names. Urban Outfitters offers a “Stargazer” knit throw in nubby gray, while Target’s “Stars Above” line has a velvety cream chenille robe. Even Sam’s Club has found fuzz fans with its Crafted by Catherine throw, a steal at $30.

Many of these products echo the dusty palette or instantly recognizable animal pattern of Barefoot Dreams.

“It really goes with the Malibu vibe, the coastal vibe,” Barrouquere said of the color scheme; the brand distinguishes colors like “graphite,” “stone,” “pewter” and “beach rock,” all subtle variations on gray-taupe — or dishwater, if feeling uncharitable.

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As bloggers breathlessly catalog the best dupes, the company has began running a banner on its home page warning customers of unauthorized sellers.

“Wash it! That’s where the others fall apart,” Cook said.

The popularity of these fluffy products — and that very machine washability — scares environmentalists, who in recent years have observed the horrors of certain synthetic fabrics on the global water supply.

“Polyester in general and microfiber especially are really under scrutiny right now because of their environmental impact,” said Patrice George, a professor of textile development at FIT, who cringes at Barefoot Dreams’ beachy website and aesthetic. “All those little tiny microfibers go into the waters and they’re polluting the ocean.” It’s the very delicacy of the synthetic textile that makes it more likely to shed and shred in the washing machine, she said, “but they do feel great.”

The effect can be mitigated by washing the blanket or apparel inside a microfiber-catching gadget, like the Cora Ball or Guppyfriend bag. Later this year, Barefoot Dreams will release EcoChic, a new product line made with 70% recycled fabric.

“Textiles have always had that dichotomy of protection and revelation,” Young said. “On the one hand, what you’re wearing reveals who you are, but on the other hand, when we go home, we always crawl under the blankets. There’s something so secure about that.”

“Security” is a word Barrouquere returns to as well. “You know when you’re a baby and you’re carrying one everywhere?” he said. “That’s why people get really addicted to our product. You want the sweater, you want the socks, you want the slippers. We’re just taking you throughout the day.”

Boyanzhu understands that Barefoot Dreams may not be achieved, or even desired, by everyone. “The reality is, I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a way for me to say that a $180 blanket is worth it,” she said. “So I want to acknowledge that. Do I regret my blanket purchase? No.”