Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What Makes a Great Hotel? A Good Night's Sleep!

I recently embarked on turning our little mountain studio into an Air BnB location and had to ponder, what makes a great hotel room? Since I travel quite a bit, I should know right? I knew an awesome mattress was a given, but what else makes my stay at any given hotel exceptional? Here is a short list of the top 4 things that make a stay remarkable whether for work or play.
Chateau de Cavanac, France
Having enough space to spread out and relax, read, watch puppy videos on Facebook, or take in a great view, really makes a difference. Whether it's doing a little yoga or hanging out on a comfy couch, people need some room to feel like they are living a little more luxuriously. Being crammed in a small hotel room is not the best way to unwind. The bigger hotel chains have definitely taken note, with their "all suite rooms" like Vdara in Las Vegas and "roomy rooms" like Hyatt Place hotels nationwide. A view of something besides the parking lot, is icing on the cake.
My last visit to Las Vegas was an exercise in frustration. I was so excited to have a kitchen, since I usually have to be there for a whole week for a trade show twice a year. Making a healthy breakfast and a bag lunch helps me keep my sanity for a week of crazy. However when I brought back my 2 bags of groceries from Whole Foods, I searched the cupboards and found nothing but emptiness. No plate, no silverware, no pots or pans. When I called down, they said they only stock upon request, and then not very well I might add. If we are going to be tempted with a stove, microwave, refrigerator and dining room, please provide the tools to keep the maid busy cleaning for 2 extra hours.
I can live without a lot of things, but not wet hair, wrinkled clothes, or the ability to see how I look before I embark out into the world. As bed bugs take over our cities, a luggage stand is both practical and a safety measure. I could pack a steam iron and travel hair dryer, however suitcase space has become a precious commodity with airlines charging for everything from a carry-on to a bad cup of in-flight coffee.
While this does go without saying, in my years of traveling, it still amazes me how these are overlooked. Since I'm in the business of providing awesome latex mattresses to hotels, I have a particular bone to pick on this one. A good night's sleep is tantamount to my success on a business trip or pleasure on a vacation. Rolling into one's partner into the abyss of a bad mattress during the night ensures a cranky morning. Speaking of sleeping with a partner, do hoteliers really think two adults fit on a full size mattress? Full size mattresses are for kids, to be crammed into one at a hotel, makes sleeping in the rental car seem like a plausible alternative. Need a great night's sleep on your next trip? Check out the Ace Hotels and sleep sweetly!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

​Latex Truths, Half Truths, and Lies: Part I

When I had my retail store in 2000 - 2002, I had to explain to every customer what latex foam was – yes, it can be natural, yes, it comes from a tree, no there it isn’t an allergy risk, yes, it will last longer than most mattress materials. These days, everyone is an “expert” on latex and we tackle a new list of questions and issues. Over the years, I’ve heard many crazy tales about latex. Manufacturers claiming proprietary “powdered” latex, customers indoctrinated in Talalay or Dunlop, latex “memory foam” products. It’s hard for those of us in the industry to keep up, let alone consumers. Here a just a few common questions, we hear over and over.
  • What’s the difference between Talalay and Dunlop?
  • Is it organic? What does that mean?
  • Are there allergy risks? What about off-gassing?
  • What does blended latex contain?
  • Does it “really” last longer than memory foam? Is there latex memory foam?
In order to tackle these questions for consumers, it raises a few new ones for the manufacturer:
  • Is latex foam still an excellent choice for mattresses?
  • How much has each process evolved?
  • Which certifications really matter?
  • What’s the environmental impact of rubber trees?
  • Will increased demand create new environmental issues?
In this blog series, I will start to unravel the many unanswered questions and tackle the tall tales about latex rubber starting with a little background on the revolutionary commodity, then the health concerns that so often enter the equation, and finally the environmental impacts of increasing demand.

Latex: A Short History
Courtesy of Eco-Latex

This story begins in the early 19th Century, when the vulcanization process - making rubber or similar polymers into a more durable material using sulphur - was invented to stabilize the rubber by using sulphur. Although rubber has been used for centuries, dating all the way back to the Maya & Aztecs for their rubber balls, it wasn’t until vulcanization techniques were employed that it made it’s industrial debut. This discovery led to increased uses for rubber and as a result, plantations were planted in the most tropical regions of the world. Rubber plantations were replacing rainforests at an alarming rate. natives were forced to work in the plantations, tapping trees and collecting this new found “liquid gold”. While the rubber tree was native to Brazil(hence the name Hevea Brasiliensis) it was quickly transported to other tropical climates, most notably Southeast Asia, Southern India, and Southern China. 

Rubber is arguably one of the 3 most important raw materials to humankind in the world. Without natural latex, we would not be able to fly in airplanes, drive cars, make shoes, or have the myriad medical supplies our hospitals rely on today. The list of products using rubber components is more extensive than most can imagine, including mattresses and pillows.

So why exactly does this matter? Well, it’s important to understand where we’ve been to know where we’re going. Rubber has become such an important raw material in a relatively short time and technologies are constantly evolving. When I started my business over a decade ago, we had only two options for latex foam: Dunlop or Talalay processed foam. We now have more high-tech versions of Dunlop with the new addition of “continuous poured” Dunlop latex foam and the Talalay process gaining attention as the quality choice in latex foam. To further our choices, we have an organic standard designed specifically for latex. To help you as a consumer wade through the jargon, here is a primer on these new choices.

Dunlop and Continuous Pour Dunlop vs. Talalay

Dunlop Latex is the oldest method for molding latex into foam - invented in 1929. There are many facilities that make Dunlop latex, typically in the country of origin. Think about making a cake. First you have your wet ingredients (latex & soap) and then the dry ingredients (vulcanizing accelerators), which are mixed together. These are whipped up into a froth in a centrifuge and then poured into a giant pan. This pan has pins sticking up throughout that heat up to make an evenly cooked core (these pins create the holes in the latex). Then a lid is put over the pan, it’s pressurized and baked. Finally it’s rinsed and dried and ready to ship. Dunlop accounts for the vast majority of the all natural latex foam.

In the Continuous Pour Dunlop facilities, this all happens on a conveyor belt with moving pans and lids being filled and baked continuously. Continuous Pour uses infrared technology for even baking. This process can also forgo the pins and pour thinner latex sheets to create rolls for quilt-backing and toppers.* There are a couple of facilities in the United States and the majority of this latex is a synthetic latex blend, however more natural latex is being made as recently as last year with increased demand.

Talalay is the most high tech process and was developed in the 1940’s adding a few key steps to the Dunlop method. There are only a small number of plants worldwide that produce Talalay Latex - one being in Connecticut and the rest overseas. There are 2 key differences between Talalay and Dunlop. 1. The process employs a vacuum to evenly distribute the latex in the mold. 2. It flash freezes the mixture, suspending the particles throughout. This method gives an airy, soft feel to the latex and minimizes the settling of solids to the bottom. The majority of Talalay is synthetic rubber and/or a blend of natural and synthetic, however Natural Talalay is available. Talalay latex is more costly than Dunlop and is usually relegated to comfort top layers rather than support layers given it’s softer, springy feel.

* One often misrepresented fact about latex is the holes make it breathable. Latex is actually an open cell material that naturally breathes. The holes can change the feel of the foam - firmer or softer with bigger and smaller holes. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Barn to Bedroom

Small Batch Wool comes to the Bedroom

To know me is to know how much I love good food. Whenever I travel, I search out the hidden gems across the country for local, fresh and unique restaurants. With the latest trends in our food and drink culture, the offerings are an exciting blend of locally produced, artisanal foods mixed with stories of their heritage and the dedicated purveyors behind their creation. During this season of sharing, I am thankful to be able to experience the simplicity of this Farm to Table, Snout to Tail, Small Batch, Handcrafted, Shop Small, Artisanal lifestyle. 

I keep coming back to the question: At what cost am I willing to buy products? Cost is a loaded term defined as price, value, sacrifice, loss;  the price is only one factor.  What's the cost to the environment?  To the people making it?  To my health?  And which definition am I considering?  A recent article in the New Yorker magazine highlighted Belcampo Meat Co. in California, a vertically integrated, organic, sustainable, humane, grass-fed, meat producer. The meat is healthier for people with higher Omega-3's, healthier for the environment using sustainable farming, and healthier for the animals using humane animal husbandry. Americans eat more meat than ever, but the quality has dramatically declined. The company's philosophy is simple; buy quality, not quantity.

All across the country, people want to trust that the products they buy are made with integrity. The Wall Street Journal published an article in November featuring American manufacturers of high-performance wool clothing. Like Suite Sleep, these entrepreneurs are also looking to the high-quality wool grown right here at home, which has revitalized our domestic wool industry. One such company is Farm to Feet, that manufactures 100% American wool socks. 

So why am I willing to pay more for fresh, local food direct from the farmer? This is the question I ask as I peruse the farmer's market Saturday afternoons. The answer is simple. Trust. 

Trust is the building block of our business. I can have a conversation with the person in charge of how it's grown, why it's done a certain way, what is and isn't in the product. Is it GMO free, pesticide free, organic, sustainable? Was it made in the US by our local labor force or by factory workers in China?  During so many visits to our retailers' showrooms engaging with sales associates and customers, I was delighted to hear more and more people asking about the story behind the products being sold. I have met more people who get their farm fresh eggs from friends and neighbors who have "backyard farms" and seek out local businesses for quality products.

As I watch this movement of bringing our producers closer to home, it's clear that the decision we made, to forego imported organic wool from factory farms across the globe, was the right decision. We love knowing that our growers are close to home, use only humane animal husbandry practices, and produce some of the best wool in the world. Our growers are small family farms that care about the health of their flock, the health of their land, and the health of their families. The first step was to look to our North American producers.  The next step is to delve deeper, and look to our local producers. Join us as our journey has just begun!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Organic for Organic's Sake?

A Woolly Conundrum
A manufacturer's worst nightmare is to run out of a key raw material for their product. It's what keeps them up at night – will there be enough? Will it arrive in time? Will the costs be consistent or wildly fluctuate? This is exactly what's happening to manufacturers who rely on certified organic wool as part of their bedding program. The US wool industry has been in decline for decades due to the elimination of wool subsidies from the farm bill, lower wool prices and a rise in the use of synthetic fibers. For these and a myriad of other reasons, most of the wool we use across all industries is imported from New Zealand, Australia and Eastern Europe. We still produce some wool, but growers in the United States who are willing to pay for the USDA organic certification, are fewer and fewer. In fact, the wool we use for bedding, which is coarser and has a high crimp (curlier) is not available at all domestically in certified organic. To exacerbate the issue further, it isn’t only the cost that is deterring our wool growers from getting certified. The biggest complaint from growers is that they must sacrifice a percentage of sheep to disease, particularly worms. Just like our pets, sheep are susceptible to worms and the worming treatment is not allowed in the organic standard. Another bane to wool growers is tick infestations. Ticks are common in wool coming in from New Mexico which still produces finer certified organic wool, but is too fine a fiber and not ideal for bedding. Consequently, all certified organic wool is imported for the mattress and bedding industry.

What Certifications Have to Offer
Third Party Certifications serve one important purpose – traceability. This is critically important, because the only way to really know if a process is being adhered to, is to be able to trace all of the steps within the process. Consumers are bombarded with "green" messaging now more than ever. Marketers are clamoring to grab this new eco-minded consumer. More and more consumers are demanding for proof, which comes in the form of certifications, otherwise how would they really know? In the mattress and bedding industry, the holy grail of certifications is GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard). GOTS has strict standards for the textile industry and now even for finished products like mattresses. A decade ago, it was a challenge just to get certified organic cotton. Now, even wool and latex are certified. Few consumers, however, know what these standards really mean. The FTC polices product claims, making sure that if a claim is made, it can be substantiated, in a mission to stomp out greenwashing. In a nutshell, certified organic wool is made from sheep that are USDA certified organic, scoured in facilities that are GOTS certified, carded in mills that are GOTS certified (Oregon Tilth is a certifier for GOTS), and is assigned a lot number to be used to trace back through all of these processes. So what happens when the supply dries up? Or the price goes up by 50% or more? Or when growers decide not to renew their certifications?

Alternatives to Certified Organic Wool
Eco Wool® is wool that is processed similarly to certified organic and often times, in the same facilities that were once certified, but the sheep themselves are not certified by the USDA. Many of the growers of Eco Wool® were once certified, but did not renew their certifications due to costs, the health of their sheep, and certification constraints that were not consistent with their unique growing environments. Growers of Premium Eco Wool® still adhere to strict purity standards and sound animal husbandry practices. Humane treatment, chemical-free growing criteria, and environmental friendliness are all taken into account when choosing growers for Eco Wool®. Animals are expensive, so keeping them healthy is tantamount to the growers' success. Many growers are getting Certified Humane certifications, which allows them to maintain a healthy flock and have transparency and traceability through a third party certification. The US growers we spoke with were honest and open about their practices, and are committed to keeping them sustainable and humane. As the wool industry is shrinking, the farmers who still tend to their flocks are smaller family operations struggling to survive. For many of them the high cost of certification and constant battles with disease, predators, and unpredictable climate issues, make it difficult to stay in business. Supporting our local growers is good for business and good for our country.

To make matters worse, the quality of organic wool has not been as good as domestic wool, and prices have jumped more than 50%! The imported organic wool is not as clean and has higher veggie matter content. The carding process eliminates much of the veggie matter, but the domestic wool tends to come out cleaner. So this all begs the question, which is better? Imported organic, or eco domestic? We vote for the latter. Since we are closer to the growers, we create a minimal carbon footprint; Most organic wool in the US has a massive carbon footprint due to shipping from across the planet. We also know the processing is done in the same manner and in the same facilities that processes certified organic wool. It uses biodegradable detergents using plant-based ingredients. Consumers will only pay so much for certified organic, when products are priced out of the market due to the certification process, we are forced to look for alternatives.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Organic Wool? Natural Wool? What's the difference?

Organic Wool? Natural Wool? What's the difference?
While most people think organic is best, when it comes to wool the answer isn't so easy. After speaking with several wool growers and woolen mills, getting sheep certified is not a top priority for growers in a fiercely competitive industry. Because the organic bedding industry relies on the many benefits of wool for mattresses, pillows, toppers, etc., it's an important question to answer.

The Certification Process
Because sheep are "grazing" animals, it is hard to control where and what they eat. Sheep enjoy grazing outdoors on large tracks of land while they are young, but then need to be brought in from pasture later on. Most sheep feed on grasses that are free from pesticides and would be deemed organic with a simple soil test. However, when they are moved into a controlled area, the availability of "organic" feed is extremely limited and incredibly expensive. Then, of course, the growers cannot give any antibiotics or growth hormones in order to be certified. In my investigation, most growers don't use antibiotics or hormones on their flock unless it's absolutely necessary. In which case, those sheep are sick and removed from the flock. Consequently, the domestic growers are limited by the cost of certification and the cost/availability of organic feed. Some growers bring their sheep to neighboring crops and have their sheep feed on nutritious vegetation after the farmers have harvested them. Isn't this what natural farming is all about? Keeping waste to a minimum. Alas, these U.S. growers wouldn't qualify for organic status, but offer excellent wool to our industry.

Domestic Natural vs. Imported Organic
Since organic certification is so hard for our domestic growers, then where does it come from? Well, it comes from the other side of the planet - New Zealand, mostly. It begs the question, which is better - domestic natural or imported organic? Considering that New Zealand is one of the largest producers of wool - the joke is that there are more sheep than people, then it is also going to have the most organic producers as well. However, once the freshly shorn wool bats comes to America, what's the difference. Not a whole lot, actually. The de-greasing, scouring, and carding process is done in the exact same facilities to the same standards. If it is specified to be natural and chemical free, the same factories are used to finish both natural and organic. Simply the sheep have not been certified, so the wool may not be certified. Since there is no regulation for the term "natural", no claims can officially be made on it.

It's a tough call – bring raw goods from far away for the organic label or support our local growers. It's no secret that the wool business is dying in the United States; woolen mills are closing across the country. The few that are left have to downsized. What will you choose the next time you buy a wool product?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How do I know if it's organic?

With so much green washing these days it's hard to tell what's truly organic and what contains a little organic content and what's just "natural." Labeling issues continue to plague our sleep industry and it leaves consumers to do their own research and still come up short. One group that is trying to clear it up for consumers is the Specialty Sleep Association's Green Initiative. This is a new three-tier labeling program that manufacturers can adopt to give full disclosure of the ingredients in their mattresses. While this does not include and exclusively organic level, it does let consumers know that a third party has reviewed and approved the contents that the manufacturer is claiming. So for all those other manufacturers that make organic claims, consumers should look for or ask for their certificates for the organic content of the raw materials in the mattress. Can the final product be classified organic? Not at this time. There is no "organic mattress" just a mattress made with organic cotton/wool fibers. Follow the SSA's Environmental Blog by SSA Consultant Vicki Worden to hear the latest in organic labeling and demystifying the organic claims so many companies are making.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Commodities Prices are going up and up...

Cotton prices are up more than 90% over the past year! Wool and Latex have also seen substantial increases in the past year. Below are a few reasons why we are seeing these increases:
  • Floods & landslides have destroyed crops in China - the world's 3rd largest producer of cotton and Australia the world's 4th largest producer.
  • Pakistan has also had 30% of its cotton crop destroyed due to flooding.
  • India and China are seeing a surge in their middle class, so they are exporting less of their cotton goods and buying more latex for tire manufacturing
  • Inclement weather in South East Asia has reduced the production of latex thereby limiting supply.
The good news - more US farmers are planting cotton this year as prices remain high! Sticking with domestic raw goods means a lower carbon footprint and lower transportation costs.

For more information on commodities prices go the this link - http://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=cotton