Plant Powered Upholstery: Our Fave Raw Materials

The type of materials used in Green Upholstery are just as important as where they come from.  Similar to the principals of the slow food movement[1], the quality and source of what we put into our bodies is as important as the air we breathe.  We know the benefits of using raw materials that are safe for our earth and personal health, so let's get a better look at the plant origins and characteristics of some of our non-petroleum materials.

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Kapok Fiber (Ceiba pentandra)[2]  

Derived from the seed pods of the Kapok Tree, a native of South America that is also found the rain forests of West Africa and Southeast Asia.  Growing quickly up to 165 feet, this tree has many purposes including medicine, food, and importance to the Mayan culture[3].  It sheds all/most leaves every drought season, which is followed by small flowers and seed pods that generally bloom every year; producing plentiful pods bursting with fiber that's ready to blow away in the wind.  

Also known as the 'cotton silk tree', it's an integral part of tree canopy ecosystems and the village economies it supports.  It's manually harvested, and pulled apart by hand so chemicals are never an issue.  Our kapok fiber is from Indonesia and used as a plant alternative to down feathers, naturally anti-bacterial, and ultimately biodegradable.  

Natural Rubber Latex (Hevea brasiliensis[9]

All natural rubber begins as the sap drained from the rubber trees found in the rain forests of South America, and commercially in West Africa and Southeast Asia.  It grows up to 130 feet and can live up to 100 years (40% longer than the Kapok Tree), so it’s significance to the forest canopy is as crucial to the indigenous tribes it supports. 

Our natural latex cushions are made here in the USA using a manufacturing process certified by Oeko-Tex[4], along with biodegradable and renewable ingredients and actions focused on reducing carbon emissions and water consumption.  Unlike petroleum and synthetic foams that never biodegrade, natural rubber also remains breathable, and naturally repels dust mites, fungus, bacteria, mold, and mildew.  

Coconut Coir (Cocos nucifera)[5]

The husk from a shelled coconut is an abundant by-product from the harvesting of coconuts.  While sourcing this material years ago, a supplier in India stated coconut coir was stored in big mountainous piles and sold by the truckloads like dirt, it’s never-ending supply sometimes a challenge since they could not sell it fast enough. 

The fiber is soaked in water to soften and frequently beaten by hand to separate the long and short fibers.  It’s the plant version of what the upholstery industry calls ‘hardback’, a dense cushioning used to create softness on the frame, and I use it cuz it’s carbon footprint is so low.

Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum)[6]

A familiar fiber used in so many products and grown mostly in India, China, and the USA.   It's origins are tropical and it's a shrubby bush that generates cotton in it's seed pods.  The USA is the largest exporter of cotton[7] although only ranking third in harvesting cotton in the world[8], and frequently ships it to China to make fabric and clothing which is ultimately sold back to us. 

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For green upholstery, cotton takes shape as muslin fabric and batting used for pillow liners, wrapping cushions, and furniture restoration.  Learn more about cotton in it's fabric form, Natural vs. Synthetic Fabrics and other Materials we use.                  

Knowing a little more about each material is like learning about someone's history.  Why wouldn't you want to know about your friends' family and where they come from?  It's all a bunch of tidbits that make each of us unique, and I believe that 'birds of a feather flock together'.  Furniture like friends, are hopefully in it for the long haul, so let's get to know each other.  XO.


Interested in learning more? Read about more green upholstery topics below!