March 1, 2010
The Ripple Effect: Pebble Baby Mattress
Overhauling the heart of the crib gives babies a healthier place to sleep.
They say we spend a third of our lives sleeping, but babies spend two-thirds of their time in a crib. Sadly, the product they lie pressed against, the baby mattress, hasn’t been reconsidered in decades. Most are low-tech and low cost—an off-gassing PVC pad suffocated in plastic. The few sustainable options are expensive, difficult to clean, and nonbreathable. Launching this month, Pebble—the centerpiece of Nook Sleep Systems, a natural crib environment designed by Shannon and Chris Svensrud—at last offers a healthier alternative.
“Nook was designed from the infant out,” says Chris, who was an applied physicist specializing in nanotechnology before cofounding the company with his wife, Shannon, a product designer with her own line of organic children’s clothing. Because infants begin to regulate their body temperature for the first time in the crib, good ventilation is important. During the year they spent in product development, the Los Angeles–based couple, themselves parents, “scoured the earth” for materials—even considering New Zealand possum fiber—that would make Pebble nontoxic, easy to maintain, and self-aerating.
Air rushes palpably through the mattress when it’s depressed. It has a firm natural-latex core surrounded by a spongy cushion of food-grade PET, an organic-wool fire barrier, and a machine-washable cover. Woven from recycled PET and eucalyptus fiber, the cover’s raised, asymmetrical pattern lets the baby locate his own sleeping “nook” while it channels away heat and moisture. Chris’s background proved helpful. “I did a lot of research,” he says. “I’m a physicist, not a sleep professional or child psychologist or pediatrician, but I’m able to read their papers.” He pored over American Academy of Pediatrics reports and spoke with professionals about how chemicals affect child development.
The Svensruds needed to learn about everything from horticulture to human sweat, as well as weigh each material’s virtues against its shortcomings. Sheep’s wool may be great for insulation, but possum hair is the only wool that won’t shrink or distort when washed. Eucalyptus, however, out-performs both in the crib: even after processing, its fibers retain the structure of the tree, sucking water up through nanotubes. The couple used a zinc nanocoating on the fabric because zinc is one of nature’s strongest antimicrobial agents. (It’s commonly used in antiseptic ointments.) “Much of this is already proven or self-evident,” Chris says. “It’s just that most manufacturers aren’t connecting the dots. It takes a multidisciplinary mind to grasp how all these different fields come together.”