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A Case for Organic Bedding with Boll & Branch

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch
We spend about 1/3 of our lives in bed.  In one year that's 4 months, which is a long time to hang out in one location!  We're good at making sure our skincare, makeup and food are sourced in clean ways but have you thought about your sheets?  I really hadn't until I sat with the co-founder of Boll & Branch, Missy Tannen, and Milla Leighton, Senior Manager of Design & Development, where I was majorly enlightened about the world of bedding (and wanted to be BFFs with them because they're so fun but that's another story!). 

Milla, Missy and myself
I had reached out to the company after having been given a set of their Signature Sheets as a gift (thanks mom for introducing me to B&B!) and later purchasing a couple more sets.  Since I felt like our motives in having our companies were aligned and I wanted to learn more about what they did.  You guys, I'm so into them :).

It all started with a home remodel - Missy and her husband, Scott, were doing a bedroom renovation and were upgrading their mattress from a queen to a king.  In need of new sheets, Missy went to a local department store to check out the options available and found the choices limited (maybe one organic set) and was unclear as to why certain sheet sets cost so much.  It came to her to ask, "what is the perfect product?" and, after research, she and Scott decided it came down to three major components:

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch


Conventionally grown cotton is funky y'all.  It uses more pesticides than any other crop in the world.  Do you want to sleep on that?  And rub your face into it, a la your pillow?  Neither did Missy and Scott, so organic cotton was the goal.  Since cotton fields and bedding manufacturing facilities are limited in the United States, they headed over to India, the largest producer of organic cotton in the world*, and met with local farmers who used rainwater, marigolds, sunflowers (the flowers attract pest eating birds) and manure to grow their crops - and that was it.

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch

, short for Global Organic Textile Standard, is the certification that all of their cotton bedding has and here's the layman's breakdown of what that means:

  • at the end of the day the sheets must contain at least 70% organic cotton 
    • Fun Fact - Boll & Branch exceeds this and does 100% organic cotton because they're awesome
  • any dyes used have to meet GOTS environmental and toxicological rules 
  • if there's color dying happening they have to have a functional waste water treatment plant (meaning, they can't use hot pink dye and then dump it in the water system and ruin the water for that community - did you ever think about that?  because I didn't)  

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch
"GOTS will literally go in unannounced and audit the location and see how they manage the dye waste.  I wanted rich, vibrant colors that wouldn't wash out but didn't come at an environmental cost" Missy said.  "We also use hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach to get our whites white and we don't do wrinkle resistant chemicals after dying as they tend to contain formaldehyde."  Um, good because that's gross.  And also, WHO KNEW?! 

Photo courtesy of Boll & Branch
GOTS also follows every step of the supply chain - from seed to spinner to weaver to dye house to finishing (cut and sew) - keeping organic fibers separated from conventional ones and regulating chemicals used.

Missy with factory workers
Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch

This is two-fold - you've got the farmers and you've got the factory workers.  In general, both generally get treated pretty horribly so this was another area Missy and Scott wanted to focus on.  Since they had decided on GOTS certified organic cotton that took care of the farmers.

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch
With conventionally grown cotton Missy explained that "the average cotton farmer's lifespan is 35 years old due to the chemicals they're using and the debt they go into purchasing GMO seeds and pesticides to keep them growing." (what?!)  She went on to explain "in India cotton farms are made up of small villages.  It's 1-4 acres per family and, while they'll grow a small amount of food for themselves, the primary amount of land is for cotton which is how they make their income.  We have visions of huge cotton picker machines here in the United States but in India everything is done by hand."  So all of those insecticides and pesticides - those are applied by hand in conventional farming and affect the health of those touching anything in the plot.  So once you eliminate chemicals, not only is it better for YOU but it's better for the farmers.

Factory workers who make Boll & Branch goodies
Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch
Then we get to the factory workers.  Missy cared about the labor conditions of manufacturing  because "I'm a mom of three children, I was a teacher and I just wanted to know who was making our products and thank them."  Missy got samples from a number of factories in India and ended up loving the ones from a particular factory, and after meeting the owner, loved him too!  She asked if he would undergo Fair Trade Certification for his factory and he said yes.

Photo used courtesy of Boll & Branch

The Fair Trade Certification guidelines ensure
  • workers make a fair wage set by the country they're in + Fair Trade together (rare in factories)
  • workers are not discriminated against due to gender, age or religion
  • there's no child labor (do you want an 8 year old making your sheets?)
  • the prohibition of harmful chemicals
And then, one of the coolest parts to me, was the "Fair Trade Premium" - with every purchase order companies make to a Fair Trade Certified facility, a premium is paid.  A board of factory workers is elected by the workers themselves and they decide what to do with these premiums which end up being about 3 months extra wages.  Sometimes it's handing out cash bonuses to everyone, other times it's investing in healthcare supplies or even hotpots to cook in for all employees.  Excellent all round!

Photo courtesy of Boll & Branch

"A majority of our customers haven't slept on organic sheets before so it might just be a bonus for them instead of a requirement" Missy explained, though after reading this far aren't you SO on board for organic sheets?!  Also, "they had to visually hold up to the sheet sets at Bloomingdale's, Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn".  Each set comes in a beautiful box tied with a ribbon, instead of wrapped in plastic, as Missy wanted people to feel "that it was worth the wait of ordering online and that it's a special purchase."

Photo courtesy of Boll & Branch
And then they had to be SOFT - crazy soft.  Their Signature Soft Sheets have a loose weave that wraps around you.  The more you wash them, the softer they get without having a deceptively high thread count.  "We promise the you your best, softest sleep" Missy said.  

So all of this - quality raw materials, fair and humane labor conditions and beautiful aesthetics all combine to make up everything that Boll & Branch creates.  Missy said "I truly love that we're making amazing products that people love.  Knowing that the more we sell means it's a positive impact on our supply chain - it means so much!"

And that's what you're paying for - clean cotton, fair wages, healthy farmers and luxurious bedding.  The organic cotton alone, straight off the field, costs Boll & Branch $20-30/sheet set (depending on size), which is nutty if you think of the sets you see for $30 at big box stores.  It starts to make you think about how much those sheets actually cost.

Percale sheets
Photo courtesy of Boll & Branch
In that list of goodies are, of course, sheets, as well as blankets, throws, duvet covers and pillows.  And new for summer are their Percale Sheets.

"We have thoughtful product launches that come from customer requests" Missy shared, and the Percale was no exception as the team was getting asked for them.  Think of a men's dress button down shirt - it has a tighter weave and a crisp "hotel sheet" feel.  They're great for people who get hot in the summer as they "sleep cool" since the sheets tents over you, creating more airflow, as opposed to hugging you as other sheets can.  The ladies were very generous and gave me a set of Percale sheets and you guys, they're SO LIGHT.  It feels like little angels are holding the sheets up over you so you don't get too hot - I can actually spoon my husband, or be spooned!, for more than 30 seconds and not overheat in the summer!  It's magical!

Photo courtesy of Boll & Branch
Tricks of the Trade from Missy & Milla:
  • always wash new sheets - even if they're organic they've been touched by multiple hands and you should wash them before you do a face plant into your bed
  • don't wash sheets with other items - towels and clothing can be abrasive and break your sheets down more quickly and leave lint
  • you need two sets of sheets - one for on the bed, one in the wash - that's it!
  • Erin's tip - if you're going to the trouble to using clean sheets use clean laundry detergent - check organic options from Whole Foods or lines like this one from Molly's Suds or from Eco Nuts .  
I'll put it to you this way - my husband is going to go work at a camp this summer for a couple of weeks, and probably will for many summers after.  He has to bring his own bedding and said "I guess I'll go pick up a set of twin sheets from Marshall's before I go"  - at which I think steam started coming out of my ears *lol*.  I'm ordering a twin set of Boll & Branch today!


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