P'tex bedding adds environmental appeal

Marvin Lazaro, December 2, 2002

Hoping to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, Pillowtex Corp. is manufacturing and debuting a new line of basic bedding under license from Sierra Club.

Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, is one of the oldest and largest environmental organizations in the United States and boasts more than 700,000 members nationally.

"Sierra Club is a branding opportunity to provide consumers with products that feature a reduced environmental impact," said Matt Moses, Pillowtex's vp of utility marketing. "Sierra Club products will provide a significant improvement in the ecological cost of ordinary products."

The licensing agreement between the two companies was signed in June 2002, Moses added, and concept boards for the new line were previewed during the recent New York Home Textiles Market at Pillowtex's Sixth Ave. showroom. Travel and bed pillows, throws, mattress pads and comforters, all constructed with either down, fleece or wool, are included.

"All our licensees have to go through a screening process," said Johanna O'Kelley, director of licensing and membership marketing for the Sierra Club. "We do research on environmental and social issues and workers' rights to see if there are any violations. Pillowtex came back quite good and within range and cleaner than most others."

The comforters and throws are offered with an eight-color, vegetable-dyed palette with the inspiration drawn from the Grand Canyon. Colors include sand, raisin, dandelion, clay, basil, mulberry and ocean, in addition to white. Motifs for the comforter line include a silhouetted sequoia, a delicate fern leaf, paw prints and a tree-inspired botanical, as well as a multi-colored stripe. The throws are offered in solid colors only, but the sequoia pattern may also be used at some point, said O'Kelley.

According to the Sierra Club, in order to make the line as environmentally sensitive as possible, Pillowtex is evaluating the entire manufacturing cycle of the products — from the growing of the raw materials to the disposal of waste water produced during the process. The major mill is also foregoing the use of heavy metal dyes in the manufacturing process, as well as formaldehyde in the finishing process.

"We want to make this a strong and truthful environmental story," said Moses. "A holistic approach is being used to ensure the design, manufacture, end use and care of products will be significant ecological improvements over traditional offerings."

A new fill, made from 50 percent merino wool puffs and 50 percent EcoSpun, has also been developed for the pillows. EcoSpun is made by Wellman Inc. from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. The pillow's shell is constructed of organic cotton. The mattress pads, also with shells constructed of organic cotton, use puffed merino wool puffs, while the comforters feature an organic cotton cover with merino wool batting.

The line is being branded exclusively with the Sierra Club label and is aimed at specialty and department stores, although prices have not yet been determined.

Special packaging, designed to reflect Sierra Club's environmental work, is also being developed and presents an interesting challenge for the company. "We're struggling with that," O'Kelley said. "It has to be kept clean, so we are looking at a very thin muslin cover which could be easily reusable. Any plastic we look at has to be recycled or recyclable."

A portion of the proceeds from every purchase of the Sierra Club line is being earmarked for the club and its efforts to protect the environment. Each item also comes with an advocacy postcard that can be signed by consumers. "It's a way to reach out to those who consider themselves environmentalists," O'Kelley said.

According to Moses, Pillowtex is hoping to have product ready to preview in time for the upcoming winter market. The line is scheduled to ship in fall 2003.

O'Kelley also said Sierra Club was discussing a sheet and towel line with the major mill, as well as other sources.

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