Organique Sleep founder Kristen Rannala is a mother of three and totally committed to the organic lifestyle. In her quest to transition her household into an organic model, she stumbled upon an eye-opening nightmare: mattresses are one of the most toxic offenders in life. And it’s the place where we spend one-third of that life.
Most all mattresses contain chemicals – including carcinogens -- that are linked to serious health issues. As a result, Kristen became an entrepreneur, setting out to create a safe, organic, nontoxic – yet comfortable – mattress. On her way to market, she learned a lot about what it takes to sound the alarm on sleepy industry regulations and wake everybody up to the fact that our mattresses may doing us more harm than good.
Here, Kristen shares what she’s learned as an entrepreneur. She tells us how marketing tricksters use “greenwashing” to pull the wool – and the sheets – over our eyes when it comes to believing a product is actually organic, nontoxic and safe.
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Traditional mattresses – and their toxicity – aren’t on the cultural radar…yet. How did you discover the information about how dangerous these mattresses can be?
I think you’re right that this really is not on the cultural radar yet. Many people are very conscious of eating organic food and using non-toxic products around their homes, but it has never occurred to them that their mattress could be toxic. Until I researched the strong, noxious odors that many new mattresses emit, it had not occurred to me either.
It turned out I was tricked by the deceptive marketing practices – also known as greenwashing – that many manufacturers employ. A sales pitch convinced me that a particular memory-foam mattress was “natural” and non-toxic, when in fact it was made with many of the same toxic materials as other memory foam.
Many mattresses that call themselves “natural,” “healthy,” “pure,” “natural,” “eco,” or even “organic” are nothing more than marketing gimmicks for toxic products. These words mean little because there are no standard definitions for such marketing terms and there is no regulation of their use in the mattress industry.
In fact, these mattresses often contain toxic chemicals like polyurethane, as well as petrochemicals like polyester, plastics and vinyls that are linked to serious health issues, including cancer. The reality is that these materials are much cheaper than healthy ones, so it’s good for the bottom line, but not for their customers’ health.
And, that strong odor coming from my mattress was in fact a result of the harmful volatile organic compounds [VOCs] that are emitted by many conventional mattresses.
How exactly is a traditional mattress harmful? What makes an organic mattress safer?
Since the 1960s, most conventional mattresses have been made of petroleum-based polyurethane foam, formaldehyde, cotton treated with pesticides, and flame-retardant chemicals.
These chemicals are clinically proven to cause everything from skin irritation, nervous system disorders and allergies to lung, nose and throat cancers. Independent laboratory testing has found that some memory foam mattresses emit up to 61 chemicals, including carcinogens like benzene and naphthalene.
This is especially concerning since sleep is a major component of a healthy lifestyle. We are most vulnerable when we sleep and it’s a time for cell repair, regeneration and healing. We spend one third of our life sleeping, and if your body can work on its own vital processes instead of combating toxins while you sleep, you’ll wake up more rested and a whole lot healthier.
Our mattress is made only from 100% certified organic latex, wool and cotton. That means no toxic chemicals that can seriously damage your health and impact the quality of your sleep. Organic latex is harvested by tapping the milk from organic rubber trees. It’s eco-friendly, as rubber trees produce sap indefinitely and rebound quickly after being harvested. Latex is the most durable foam available, so your mattress will last a long time!
It is important to choose organic cotton because 30% of the world’s pesticides are used to grow conventional cotton. You don’t want your face next to a residue of pesticides. Enormous amounts of chlorine, toxic dyes and finishing chemicals are also used to process cotton. Organic cotton is both soft to touch and remarkably durable. Organic wool cushions the joints and muscles, wicks and dries moisture from the body, combats mold, mildew and dust mites and is a great insulator/temperature regulator.
Organic wool is also used instead of synthetic chemicals to pass the federal open flame test. With an organic mattress, your body is not being flooded with toxic chemicals and your body can detoxify and reap the full benefits of sleep.
Once you learned what goes into a high-quality organic mattress, how did you go about making that product happen? At first, was it easier said than done? Were there challenges along the way?
We knew we wanted to create a mattress made of only the highest quality, non-toxic, certified organic materials -- something non-toxic and healthy, but also the highest quality mattress possible from a durability and comfort perspective.
So we spent many months researching materials to determine the optimal design and construction, and then looking at dozens of potential manufacturing partners.
Our factory produces exclusively organic products. We have vetted every supplier in the supply chain to make sure that all the key materials – like latex, cotton and wool -- are all certified organic. This is critical because there is very little transparency in the mattress industry. Many producers will call their products “natural” or even “organic” when they might contain a little organic fabric somewhere, but the mattress is 90% toxic polyurethane foam.
Our materials have been certified organic by organizations like the Global Organic Textile Standard International Working Group [GOTS] and Global Organic Latex Standard [GOLS], which are really the gold standard for organic textiles and latex. And, our mattresses are made in the USA. This enables us to maintain integrity of the materials and manufacturing process, which is critical in an industry where terms like “natural” are not regulated or verified to mean anything, but often are just deceptive marketing gimmicks.
How are you spreading the news about mattress toxicity?
Any way that I can! I love opportunities like this to tell people about the health hazards of toxic chemicals in their sleep environments. I’ve also started writing a column on Huffington Post about sleep and health.
Research has shown time and again that sleep is one of the most critical elements to our overall health. Our bodies are vulnerable and repairing themselves when we sleep. But if toxic chemicals attack your system while you sleep, you not only lose the healthful, restorative benefits of sleep, but you can actively damage your health.
What are some reservations people may have about sleeping on an organic mattress? For instance, there may be a perception that it may not be as restful or as comfortable as a traditional mattress. How do you address those concerns?
Organic latex foam is actually one of the most comfortable, supportive and durable mattress materials available. In fact, latex foam mattresses like ours can last for 20 years or more.
Many of our customers are currently sleeping on or considering memory-foam mattresses. Memory foam feels comfortable at first, but is infamous for trapping heat under a sleeper’s body. Memory foam also takes several minutes or more to regain its shape when a sleeper moves, and must be repeated to re-contour the surface with every position change. This can cause restless sleep overall. Latex foam like ours is actually among the most luxurious and adaptable mattress materials. Latex foam layers can be very soft, very firm, or combined to create any comfort level in between. Organic latex foam promotes deeper, longer sleep, and its natural characteristics help relieve conditions like chronic back pain.
For durability, organic latex foam is also a great choice. Synthetic materials have a much shorter lifespan and often start to break down and lose their supportiveness after just five years. Organic latex is actually the most durable natural foam available, and mattresses often last 20 or more years without deterioration of the sleep surface.
What are some of your customers saying about their purchase? Do they have more peace of mind now?
The feedback we hear from our customers is one of the most exciting and rewarding things about what we do. Not only are they sleeping with more peace of mind knowing their mattress isn’t making them sick, they have never slept so comfortably!
For example, we’ve had customers who had chronic headaches and once they replaced their toxic mattress and pillow with an Organique mattress and pillow, their headaches went away.
Many customers also say they sleep much more soundly and feel more rested when they wake up, without the foggy-headed morning feeling – which is actually exactly what we would expect to hear, because removing the toxins that tax our bodies while we sleep allows the body’s restorative process to take place.
What have you learned as an entrepreneur throughout this adventure?
Starting a business can be a grueling and consuming undertaking. But if you believe passionately in the mission of your company, the product or service you are providing, there are few careers that are more rewarding and satisfying. For me, bringing safe and healthy products to the market that will help people sleep better and improve their health – sometimes even heal chronic conditions – makes all the long days and late nights well worth the effort!
What words of advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are about to embark on marketing their product and/or educating the public on an urgent issue?
It can be an exhausting, uphill battle to spread a message that goes against the status quo. Big companies have armies of marketing and PR staff with massive budgets to get their message in front of consumers, whether it’s the best product or not. So we try to be as creative and scrappy as we can. And, if you focus on the long-term “big picture” of what you are trying to accomplish, it makes it easier to keep pushing every day. Even if I sometimes feel like it’s a David and Goliath story, I just need to remind myself that, in the end, David won!
Find out more about Organique and organic mattresses here.
- MICHAEL KROUSKOP / BELMONT UNIVERSITY - Men in HAZMAT suits disposing of old mattresses