The Natural Bedding Company literally started as a cottage industry, with everything made at home and Andrew McCaig sometimes making deliveries by bicycle. Over the years not all that much has changed (except the bicycle deliveries) – the mattresses are still handmade and the personal service is as good as ever.
To really understand Natural Bedding and the passion behind it, you must go back to 1984 – a time when virtually every house in Sydney’s Inner West had rice paper blinds, and Thai restaurants were a novelty around town. Andrew McCaig was miserable in his job as an auditor – office life and dealing with figures all day wasn’t his idea of fun. Out of hours, he trained to become an oki yoga teacher and practised shiatsu massage, which helped a bit, but it was weekend classes in making yoga mats and futons that completely changed his life.
He’d discovered something he loved doing and that gave him the chance to spend 24 hours a day with his young baby, Sam – within no time, he decided to give up his job and start making futons from home in Annandale.
Sam’s mum would make the covers, which Andrew would then stuff with cotton; after a while, the whole house was turned over to making futons, with the showroom in one of the bedrooms.
At the start, Andrew ordered two bales of cotton; within a year, he was ordering 15 at a time. To get the word out, Andrew would take Sam out in his pram and drop off brochures advertising his futons at local cafes, and would deliver his custom-made products individually – first by Jeep, and when he was without a car for a while, by bicycle.
Once Andrew’s landlord cottoned onto the fact that he was operating a business out of the house, Andrew had to move into a factory in Balmain. A stream of unusual people worked for him, including an insomniac who would work on his own at night. At the time, there were about 15 futon companies in Sydney; eventually, futons started going out of fashion, partly because they weren’t that easy to look after, and Andrew decided to move into mattresses. It was important to him that they should be as natural and sustainable as the futons he’d been making, and he experimented with a number of different materials before settling on latex, cotton, wool and coir.
Over the years, Natural Bedding has moved premises several times, always managing to stay within the Inner-West. The factory used to be in the backroom of the showroom in Stanmore, until it outgrew the space; the mattresses and furniture are now made a few kilometres away in Marrickville.
Sam, the baby who used to do the café rounds in his pram, started working with Andrew at weekends while he was still at school (and even made a miniature bed base and mattress for a project in year 10), and they’ve worked together ever since. Between them, they’ve been involved in every aspect of the business, including manufacturing, retail, delivery and advertising.
From literally a cottage industry, Natural Bedding hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s still not huge – about 11 people all up – and that means it’s small enough for everything to still be proudly handmade right here in Sydney from natural and sustainable products. And small enough, too, for you to deal directly with the people who are involved in making your bed for you.
The covering to our mattresses is organic cotton with hemp, which we source from a company in New Zealand. Being organic, no harmful chemicals have been used during the growth cycle of the cotton.
We use a number of materials in the filling:
Our carbon neutralised organic latex comes from rubber trees from two farms in Sri Lanka, and is shipped directly to us. The company that owns the farms has a number of schemes for its workers and their families, including school programs, and has certification through one of the leading and largest organic to sustainability certification associations, Control Union. On top of all that, our organic latex is naturally flame retardant, dust mite-resistant, hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
It’s taken us years to find the wool we now use – once it’s off the sheep, it’s organically cleaned, leaving it with plenty of bounce. Not all the lanolin is removed either, which means it retains a nice natural scent. Admittedly not everyone loves that scent – best to have a sniff before you commit to it. Apart from being lovely and soft, our wool is flame resistant and dust mite-resistant.
"Wool is naturally flame resistant and offers a greater level of fire safety than other fibres... Wool's inherent fire resistance comes from its naturally high nitrogen and water content, requiring higher levels of oxygen in the surrounding environment in order to burn."*
Our mattresses are also available without wool.
Coir, from coconut husks, comes directly to us from Sri Lanka. It is coated with natural latex to give it density and stability. As with the latex company, our suppliers of coir look after their workers and provide a number of programs for them and their families. As well as giving great support, the coir and latex mix is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and dust mite-resistant.
All the timber used in our furniture is solid Australian oak hardwood, sustainably managed, and falls under the government’s ecoSelect program and certified by the following: FSC, PEFC, AFS, CSAW, FWPA, FTT. Our drawer bottoms are made with formaldehyde-free, soy-based bonded plywood to reduce weight and increase functionality. We use eco-friendly Livos, a German product, to finish the timber – not only is it environmentally sound, but is also a healthy alternative for anyone sensitive to petrochemical-based lacquer. In our bed frames, we use water-based glues.
There are two main methods of processing latex – the Dunlop and the Talalay process. We use the Dunlop process, which has been around since the late 1920s. Once the sap has been extracted from the rubber tree, it is put into a centrifuge machine and whipped into a froth. The froth is then placed into a mould with a small amount of gelling agent, covered and steam baked.
The Talalay process has a couple more steps than the Dunlop. Once the sap is in the mould with the gelling agent, it is placed in a vacuum chamber, and air is extracted. It is then flash frozen, and chemicals used to stabilise it. It’s only then that the mould is baked.
Those extra steps mean extra money, and we don’t think it’s worth it – the Talalay process gives a slightly better consistency to the density of the latex over its lifetime, but not enough to warrant the much higher price tag. On top of that, the Dunlop process uses less chemicals, and that has to be a good thing in our book.
Organic fillers are naturally occurring substances in the sap, and include tree minerals and salts. You’d expect them to be there, and wouldn’t try to remove them. Our latex, and latex produced by most other companies, contains only organic fillers.
When the sap and small amount of gelling agent is heated, a very small amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are formed, These are mostly washed out of the mattress before testing and packaging. VOCs are carbon-based compounds, found both naturally and in many household products. They are solids that evaporate and can combine with other molecules in the atmosphere to create new compounds – some harmless, others not so. This is mostly described as the smell from fresh paint, new furniture, new cars and a whole lot of other things. This comes from VOCs breaking down – something known as off-gassing (this mostly happens when a product is first made and towards the end of the life of a product). When there are a high level of VOCs, we find chemically sensitive people can get headaches or itchy eyes, feel nauseous or interfere with breathing. This is why high levels of VOCs are not a good thing. That off-gassing can persist for years after a product is made, and people keep breathing the VOCs in. The more natural a product is and the more stable its make-up, the lower the level of VOCs and the less harmful they are. Most people wouldn’t even notice a difference when it comes to VOCs, but we still make sure our latex off-gasses the lowest amount possible.
Any hardwood tree, whether it’s part of the ecoSelect program or not, will take many years to grow. With that in mind, it’s important to use hardwood timber respectfully and thoughtfully. All our furniture is built to last – we offer 10-year guarantees on all of it, but expect it to last far longer. It’s very important to us that we produce sustainable furniture that doesn’t end up as landfill. Most hardwood trees cut down in Australia are turned into wood pulp, sold very cheaply and shipped offshore to make paper, which we then buy back. By buying a piece of furniture made out of Australian hardwood timber, you’re contributing to a much more sustainable future.