In planning Wander, a new resort in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, owner-designer Shannon Hunter could have easily defaulted to cheap, bed-in-a-box mattresses, the kind that cost about $1,000 each and are advertised on basically every podcast. Instead, Hunter decided to invest more than triple that on custom mattresses from Ottawa-based Obasan (the same supplier to Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn).
Hunter partly bought for quality. The average Canadian mattress rings in at about $800, according to Moneysense magazine, but only lasts about seven to 10 years. Obasans start at $3,000, and are crafted in such a way that they can be repadded and reupholstered, extending their lives almost indefinitely. “The longevity of these products balances out the higher cost,” she says.
Hunter was also motivated by a concern for the bed-pocalypse. Every year in Canada, six million mattresses end up in garbage dumps, according to Canadian Mattress Recycling, a B.C. company trying to divert more beds from landfills. The number has been accelerating recently with the proliferation of fast mattress companies offering short-lifespan products made of petroleum-based foams. Those foams never really biodegrade, so much as crumble into little bits that leach into the food and water supplies.
In contrast, Obasans are built from organic cotton and natural latex (a byproduct of rubber trees), materials that break down over time. That’s something worth sleeping easier over. More so: Obasan, while a stalwart, founded in 1985, is not the only Canadian option. More and more, local companies are starting up to sell ethical sleep options, including all-natural sheets, pillows and duvets, all in an attempt to turn our bedrooms from would-be eco wastelands to green sanctuaries.
Len Laycock’s goal is nothing less than to create the world’s most sustainable bed. A former IKEA executive who now rejects the notion of fast furniture, Laycock describes himself as feeling “seasick” when thinking of bed-in-box companies. He has spent much of the past three years meticulously researching how to craft a better alternative. His work has resulted in Horizontal Sleep, a mattress optimized for sustainability (prices start at $4,230).
The hardwood frame is fashioned from durable, Japanese-style joinery – but any of the components can be swapped out for repair. To eliminate that plastic in the elastic band that typically secures a fitted sheet, Laycock latches the linen to the frame with a patented system of buttons and eyelets.
Laycock isn’t just trying to use the right materials, but the exact right amount of those materials to avoid waste. Like Obasan and other eco mattress brands, Horizontal Sleep relies on organic latex to create a plush place to rest, only the pads are purposefully thinner. “We have tested this extensively,” Laycock says. “Beyond six inches of latex thickness, thickness alone makes no comfort improvement at all. If blindfolded and asked to lie on 12 inches of latex of a particular density, then asked to lie on six inches of the same density, no one could accurately or consistently discern a difference. Not even the Princess and the Pea.”
For consumers, an invariable challenge with shopping for sustainable beds and bedding is navigating the myriad material choices. As long as someone isn’t vegan, “down-filled pillows work providing they are ethically sourced,” Laycock says. But what does ethically sourced mean?
“We had the same question,” says Ruby Rakhra, co-founder of Takasa, sustainable bedding and bath company based in Vancouver that carries down-filled comforters (from $550). “We researched and found down with a Downmark certification. This ensures that humane down harvesting is guaranteed, as well as the sustainable and ethical treatment of the birds. Down comes as a byproduct from the poultry industry. In other words, the birds are not raised for their down, but rather for their meat.”
As an alternative, Takasa – and Horizontal and Obasan – also offers cruelty-free wool-based products. “Wool is a natural matrerial offering breathability and moisture-wicking properties,” Rakhra says. “That helps regulate your body temperature while you are sleeping.”
“Wool-filled pillows can be also refluffed by tumbling in a dryer,” Laycock says.
A 2017 Vogue article described bed linens as a “big sustainability problem,” noting that in the U.S. alone, more than 10 million tons of sheets end up in landfills every year. Thirteen million tons of fast fashion ends up in the same place.
According to Laycock, “the most sustainable bedding textile is linen made from flax,” he says. “It does not require humans to irrigate it on a regular basis. Grown in somewhat moist climates, it needs little additional water. No chemicals are needed. Gram for gram, the lifespan of a linen bed sheet is approximately four years longer than a cotton sheet.”
Montreal’s Maison Tess, started in 2017, offers 100-per-cent flax linen sheets (as well as organic cotton and cotton-flax blends). “They are made with biodegradable dyes that pose no harm to the dyer during manufacturer, no harm to anyone,” says Laura Nezri Chetrit, the company’s founder. “They also breath nicely.” A set of flax linens might cost about $500.
At Maison Tess, Nezri Chetrit regularly introduces new colour schemes, based on inspiration from fashion, design, and her travels. The idea is to have sustainable sheets that also look sharp. But she also tries to stick with hues that all work together. “Someone might want a pop of colour in the middle of January,” she says. “But I still want that colour to work with someone’s existing sheets. Just because someone buys something new, doesn’t mean they should throw out what they had before.”