RUBBER TREES ARE NOT BOUNCY

Rubber trees are not bouncy. I know; I was disappointed to find this out as well. As a child growing up on the philosophies of Dr. Seuss, I assumed that rubber trees grew in giant, jungle gym forests just outside of Whoville. They don’t, for the record, and if you ever find yourself in a rubber tree forest, trying to bounce from tree to tree is not advisable.

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Rubber trees actually grow on large plantations, mostly in warm, tropical climates in countries like Malaysia and South Africa. Natural rubber is a sap, and is tapped from the tree much like maple syrup. It’s very sustainable; one tree can be tapped for 40 years without harming the growth of the tree. As a person who always casts her vote for sustainability, I am obviously all for this type of production, and loving the fact that natural rubber is rising rapidly in demand. As a person who works in an industry dependent on natural rubber, I am not so thrilled to find that demand is rising faster than production. This combination always seems to end in price increases.

With more demand from other industries looking for a natural alternative to synthetic rubber in their products, natural rubber is the “it-girl” of the latex industry. Factor in rising demand from rapidly developing countries such as China, and natural rubber is becoming more and more sought after. Unfortunately, unlike synthetic substances, we have to wait years for a rubber tree to mature before it is able to produce sap that can be used to make products.

And so this story ends with higher mattress prices. The cost of natural rubber went up 20% in just the past year, and unfortunately we can’t absorb that much of a price increase and still stay in business, although we wish we could. However, when put into perspective, a Lifekind organic mattress will last at least 20 years…which is 7,305 nights (including leap years)…which is 58,440 hours of restful, organic sleep. That’s a lot of sleep for your buck.

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Evolving Into a Locavore

I have a problem with consuming products that are more well-traveled than I am. I don’t want to be jealous of the places my lettuce has been, or the things my pillow has seen. I want to know where these products came from, and what they’ve been subjected to.  I would like very simple life stories from the things I buy, please.

I don’t know why I didn’t come to this conclusion sooner, but after reading extensively about the issues, I am now a reformed “locavore.” Local foods and other products are better for me, better for the planet, and better for my community.

I trust American organic industry, and I want to support it. I consider my dollar to be like a vote; the businesses and products people are willing to pay for will stay around, while those they don’t support will disappear. I personally want the organic farmers and producers in my community to stay, so I’m going to vote for them by buying and using their products.
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There are so many reasons to buy American-sourced products: decreased fuel consumption, a stronger economy, more support for local farmers, better personal health, a better knowledge of where and how your products were made, greater biodiversity…the list goes on. So why not?

Apparently I’m not the only person asking myself this question, as I recently read that the local farming industry in the United States has increased by 20% in the past 6 years. That, to me, is amazing news. So here’s to spending money conscientiously and shopping locally!

I Love My Dog

Dog Picture 2I love my dog; a sentiment felt by most pet owners, I’m sure. He stinks, snores and chews pillows if he’s left alone too long, but he’s also loyal, trusting, and a great running buddy. He’s always there to listen to my problems, and he never talks back. My dog makes me feel special just for coming home at the end of the day.

Because I love my dog, my world was rocked when I took him to the vet for what looked very much like a tumor. It turned out to be an allergic reaction to a vaccine, but it caused me to spend a good amount of time researching cancer in dogs. Rocky is a Boxer, and as I found out, Boxers are particularly susceptible to cancer and stomach diseases. Since I would prefer he didn’t get either of these unpleasant conditions, I need to be very careful about the products I give him.

It turns out that cancer is rapidly increasing in dogs, and is now responsible for 46% of disease-related deaths. Prevention seems pretty straightforward; good, wholesome food and natural products…much like for people.

Lifekind has wonderful pet beds that are made from the same organic materials that our “people” mattresses and bedding are made from. I hadn’t realized how important this is until I came home one day to a yard full of a substance I later titled “radioactive fluff.” Honestly, that’s the best way to describe the mystery material that had been inside the pet bed Rocky had decided that day was a chew toy. It was blue, had the consistency of fiberglass, and I’m pretty sure it could glow in the dark. Whatever the stuff was, it wasn’t healthy, and it put me in the market for an organic pet bed.

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I think I owe it to my dog to take the best care of him that I can. He trusts me, after all, to not knowingly have him eating chemicals and sleeping on radioactive fluff beds. It’s hard sifting through all the marketing claims and mystery ingredients put into modern pet food, toys, etc., but I think it’s worth it because, not to sound repetitive, I love my dog.

Washed Away

Imagine seeing an advertisement in the paper for a new Corvette, at the cost of a generic sedan. Pretty exciting, right? Like most people, you’d probably be tempted to go check it out. When you arrive at the car lot, however, the salesperson shows you what actually appears to be a shiny new Honda Civic. While there’s nothing wrong with a Civic, it certainly isn’t comparable to a Corvette. This particular Civic has Corvette brake lights, and is therefore being advertised as “Corvette Certified.” You, my disappointed friend, have just been a victim of carwashing.

Ok, I made that term up. Greenwashing, however, a similar concept that’s frighteningly popular in the mattress world, is very real.

As a Product Specialist, part of my job is to research and be informed about our competition so I can better assist customers who have questions about those companies and how they compare with Lifekind. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no one else who does what Lifekind does. There are imitators and companies that come close, along with those who blatantly lie to make themselves look like they come close, but I wouldn’t want to trust “close imitation” or “blatant lies” with my sleep.

As a consumer, it can be daunting to sift through the marketing baloney and find the real thing. There are “organic” mattress companies who post logos of trusted certifiers on their website because one of the many ingredients they use might pass that standard, even though the final product does not. Others display logos of “certifiers” that in fact do no such thing, but are merely membership organizations. (I’ve seen, for instance, companies claiming to be “National Geographic Certified,” even though National Geographic is merely the parent company for The Green Guide, a consumer organization that doesn’t certify materials, finished products, or anything else.)

I’m personally vexed by companies that make what I like to call “natural-lite” products, such as the “20% natural-core” mattress I saw advertised the other day. While it’s commendable that someone is making a product with 20% natural ingredients, what exactly is the other 80% made of?

Be cautious and ask questions. I have seen companies use a GOTS logo to infer that their manufacturing plants and products are GOTS certified, when in fact just one raw material component is able to boast GOTS certification. GOTS certification for a facility is not obtained easily; they are very, very strict about their standards, and they conduct random inspections, so there is virtually no room for error. We conduct business in accordance with their standards because we want to be able to show that we make the purest mattress, not that it’s just our opinion that we make the purest mattress.

Many companies claim to support American industry, but outsource the production of anywhere from one to all of their raw materials to other countries. This not only takes away potential green American jobs, but also risks contamination of the raw materials by fumigation when they are imported to the U.S. Add this to the uncertainty about organic standards from country to country, and there is ample room for doubt in exactly how pure outsourced materials really are.

On a similar note, beware of companies that use words like “Organic” or “Natural” in their company names to make them seem purer than they actually are. Without certification to back up the name, it’s simply the name of a company, like Bob’s Mattress Factory.

The moral of this story is to look before you leap into that new bed. Ask the tough questions of companies who want your business. Ask where their raw materials come from, who certifies them, and what has been added. Ask about their manufacturing processes and who certifies the final product.

Ask as many questions as you can, because an educated consumer base is the best defense against greenwashing.

Walt and the Mattress Factory

A few weeks ago I visited the factory where the mattresses are made for both Lifekind and our sister company, OMI (Organic Mattresses Incorporated). I felt like Charlie going to the Chocolate Factory. I have to admit that the enthusiasm Walt has for the company he has built from the ground up is reminiscent of Willie Wonka. However, I would like to continue to be employed at Lifekind, and will therefore stop comparing my boss to a slightly deranged, socially awkward candy fanatic.

As a recent college graduate with a degree in marketing, I came into the workforce with a jaded view of the way business is done in the world. I’ve studied companies and business practices that would make the average consumer ill. I’ll never forget being told by a reputable professor of finance that financial calculations are “more of an art than a science,” then watching the financial collapse of companies “too big to fail” caused by their “artistic” financial practices; learning that perceived value is more important than actual value; that it pays to outsource labor to make a cheaper product. Please don’t get me wrong; I feel proud to hold a business degree because of the broadened horizons and knowledge it has given me. I also feel fortunate to work for a company that has gone against such misguided principles and been extremely successful because of it.

I thought about all I had learned about how to run a business and as I watched Walt explain each aspect of his immaculately clean factory and machinery, encouraging us to notice the purity of the raw materials and the quality of the stitching in the fabric. Walt was also a marketing professor for 13 years, and has run successful businesses for 40 years, so he’s no stranger to the principles of marketing; he’s just trying to run a business in accordance with his personal principles as well.

The resulting companies, Lifekind and OMI, are run in a way that limits our impact on the environment. In the entire factory there is only one traditionally sized trash can. Almost all waste from production is recycled. This was incredibly impressive to me. We also make a product that makes absolutely no compromise on quality or purity. Any cotton or wool that falls on the floor is not used, even though the floor is so clean it would put my kitchen counters to shame. Employees don’t smoke or wear fragrance and, even more importantly, they’re happy and respected.
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Long story short, I came back from the factory wanting to purchase everything Lifekind has ever offered, because I have absolute faith that it’s the best available, and that makes me feel good about recommending those products to my customers.

Adventures in Gardening

It’s officially spring, and I’ve officially started my first vegetable garden. I started small last spring, with a pot of herbs that I lovingly planted and watered, then left at my parents’ house and forgot about. Not knowing exactly what I was doing, I had planted far too many seeds. I figured that variety would win out over my incompetance and, hopefully, I’d have one or two survivor plants to clip off of and throw in a salad once in a while.

I returned a few weeks later to find a forest of mint, basil, thyme, and a few mystery plants that I wasn’t quite sure about. Instead of natural selection, apparently my little ecosystem had opted for a more free-living approach. The mass abundance was causing the little herbs to crowd up and out, spilling over the edge of the pot and making it look like nature’s answer to one of those party-favor poppers everyone brings out at New Year’s.

This year I’m doing it right. Bolstered by experience and a bit of confidence from last year’s adventure, I planted little decomposable starter pots with heirloom tomatoes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, and an array of other delicacies. I carefully labeled them to avoid the random mystery plant later in the season, gave them plenty of water, and set them in the sun. I then planted myself in a chair on the porch with an iced tea and watched them as if they would magically grow a vegetable the next time I blinked. I was very, very proud of my newfound connection with nature. I made up my mind to take it one step further.

I started a compost pile. My roommates came home that evening to a clean fridge, a raked yard, and a large heap of smelliness back behind the house. I believe this must have been something of a bittersweet moment for them, but I was completely elated. I was the ultimate recycler and green goddess. I was going to save the world!

I’ve come down off my enviro-pedestal somewhat over the past 24 hours. Maybe I won’t save the world with my compost and my tomato plants, but I have taken a step towards a greener lifestyle, and that’s all anyone can really expect in a day’s work, right?

Yoga

Yoga is an integral part of health for a rapidly growing number of people, mainly because of the (hopefully permanent) trend toward naturally healthy living.

For most people, I think, yoga comes about as a result of a desire to live healthfully. For me it was the opposite. I fell in love with yoga, and the awareness my practice brought to me of the connection between my body, my surrounding environment and myself brought about a resulting fascination with organics, nutrition and eco-friendly living. I suppose it could be said that yoga brought me to a place where I am working here at Lifekind, for an obsessively organic company, writing a blog about yoga.

To say that I love yoga would be a gross understatement. “Obsession” would be more accurate. I practice Bikram yoga which, for those not familiar with it, is 90 minutes of yoga practiced in a room heated between 95 and 105 degrees. The practice has taught me so much about my health and my body, as well as better ways to handle stress and angst in my life. I know, for instance, that I feel nauseous and dizzy during class if I’ve eaten non-organic or unhealthy food, or haven’t had enough water or sleep that day. It also helped me to discover that I’m lactose intolerant, which I may never have found out without help from accute reactions during yoga classes after eating dairy.

I learned to center myself and focus on my breath whenever emotional or physical stress abides in my life, and to remind myself that my only requirement is to keep breathing — that if I do that, I can make it through anything. I learned to control my body movements, making me less of a klutz in everyday life (emphasis on the “less.” I am still very much a klutz). I learned to bend over backwards until I can see the backs of my knees, which I have to admit I think is pretty neat.

Recently, while taking a yoga class, I got to thinking about my yoga gear. I realize that this is not the sort of Zen thought that should be going through my head during meditation, but it’s harder to control the brain than the body. I thought about my bright blue, synthetic latex mat; my pretty yoga outfit which, although cotton, was grown in who-knows-what conditions somewhere in China; and my bright white towels that were washed in detergent containing bleach, optical brighteners and, that one term I’ve come to dread on labels, “fragrance.” (“Fragrance” is a term used in labeling products that can mean any combination of 600 chemicals, a vast majority of which haven’t been tested for toxic or carcinogenic properties. This is one of many valuable blips of information I’ve picked up in my short time working at Lifekind.) What’s worse, I had forgotten to bring my trusted Kleen Kanteen to class, and was drinking bottled water. What? Not only was this bad for the environment, but I was in a heated room, drinking from a plastic container. There was no way that could be good for me.

All of these revelations running through my mind began to make my head spin. Why was I allowing such hazards to my health during, of all times, a yoga class?

And so I’ve embarked on a mission to organify my yoga experience. It’s only logical that this should be my next step in living a more organic lifestyle. As a recent college graduate who hasn’t yet gained her fortune, I don’t have the means to overhaul my entire collection of yoga ensambles on a whim. Therefore, I am approaching this as I am approaching building an organic bed: starting with those items that are in immediate contact with my skin and working my way down. So far I’ve purchased an organic, American-grown sports bra, and I think that’s a pretty good start. I wear my sports bra proudly and know that I am one tiny step closer to doing something great for myself.

Kristen, Product Specialist