When Barry Cik went to a baby store to buy a crib mattress for his first grandchild in 2003, he was concerned by what he found in the products: assorted chemicals, vinyl/PVC with phthalates, polyurethane foam with flame retardants, formaldehyde, GMOs, glues/adhesives, and more.
Cik said. “When I asked the salesperson about it, he tried to reassure me by saying, ‘oh, come on; if it wasn’t safe the government wouldn’t allow it to be sold!’ And I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’” “I just couldn’t buy it,”
That evening, as Cik was telling his wife about the problem, he recalled that his grandfather slept on straw. “I thought, there has to be a way to go back to simpler, safer materials.” In 2003, Cik started Naturepedic to bring a new kind of baby mattress to the market; one that he would feel safe about his grandchild sleeping on and that he would be comfortable recommending to family and friends.
Cik’s initial research found that there were organic baby mattresses on the market, but they were designed with adult sleepers in mind. They would give it to you in a crib-size, but the mattresses weren’t child-friendly. “Most organic mattresses used latex, which can be organic; but about six percent of children are allergic to latex and a parent might not know that.”
The other big issue was waterproofing: It was necessary for a crib mattress, but Cik found nothing on the market that he felt was safe enough for his grandchild to sleep on. Most waterproofing for crib mattresses was, and still is, either vinyl or perfluorinated compounds. Cik arrived at using food-grade polyethylene; widely used in the food packaging industry and recommended by environmentalists as a safer option than other plastics.
“In our modern world, there are times when you need to use synthetics,” Cik says, “but there’s a big difference between synthetic materials that are toxic and those that aren’t, especially when they’re touching our littlest ones.”
Naturepedic began selling its first crib mattress online. Consumers caught on quickly and soon asked about larger mattresses for bigger kids and for themselves. Today, Naturepedic sells mattresses of all sizes and with features up to super-luxury, and customers are very pleased with them.
Cik says the Naturepedic models are superior, beginning with because the predominant material in standard mattresses is polyurethane foam. Made with all kinds of chemicals, polyurethane foam is extremely flammable and requires use of yet more chemicals to make them flame-retardant. “Our mattresses are safer because of the higher quality materials we use.”
Cik was predisposed to look for an organic solution because his interest in sustainability was longstanding, starting when he was an engineering student in college. “Back then, a common joke was ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’ but I never found that very funny,” he recalls.
At that time, Lake Erie was showing the effects of a century of pollution and the Cuyahoga River literally caught on fire. Industry pollution wasn’t on the radar in 1870 but by 1970, the damage resulting from all the toxic chemical contamination was obvious.
“I realized we can’t just keep dumping chemicals – whether in our rivers and lakes or into our bodies or the bodies of our children – and pretend that it’s not a problem,” Cik says. “It’s real, and we’ll pay a really high price if we don’t get serious about it.”
A self-described environmentalist since that turning point, Cik also helped to start the first food co-op in Columbus, Ohio. “My interest actually started with the environment and my human health focus came later,” he says.
Cik is driven to transfer what he learned about the environment in the ‘70s to what the impact is on people – especially children — today.
“There are over 80,000 chemicals running around in our environment right now, virtually all unregulated,” Cik says. “And every year, there are enough new chemicals unleashed to allocate 250 pounds of them for every person in our country.”
Evidence is growing that many health problems, such as asthma, are on the rise. If there’s a chance that we can reduce the risk by reducing chemical use and shrinking our environmental footprint, then that’s something Naturepedic wants to achieve.
“Businesses can make the difference,” Cik said. “We must work with government and change the laws, but we have to go beyond that and commit to doing better in our individual companies and our industries.”
Making safer mattresses using healthier materials was not the most difficult engineering challenge Cik has met, but he believes it is the most important one. Making safer, high quality products, in an industry where this issue was not being taken seriously enough, became his life’s mission.
“It costs way too much money not to do things the right way,” Cik said. “When you do right it costs less money in two ways: the overall cost to society is lower, and consumers are going to choose your products because they are better.”
For those who worry that doing business with health and sustainability in mind will harm their bottom line, Cik disagrees. “The whole argument from traditionalists is nonsense. Our sales keep going up.”
Naturepedic has proved that when you introduce a higher quality product, the public will appreciate you for it.
“People are changing and opening up their minds,” Cik said, “I see it every day. Even if you’re not focused to live an organic lifestyle, organic materials is still the better way to go even just for your own health and safety at home.”
Cik has worked with ASBC for years, and has now also committed to working with ASBC to produce educational materials that foster awareness of the need for transparency in chemical use and the need for overall sustainability.
“What we have to do now is make a big effort to reach greater numbers of people out there and explain that there is a better way,” Cik asserts. “Working with ASBC is the best way to make the case for doing things right.”