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Sleeping with a clear conscience

White Terry will launch new duvet covers and crib sheets by the end of May. Ted Belton Photography.
White Terry will launch new duvet covers and crib sheets by the end of May. - Ted Belton Photography/via Postmedia

Buying bed linen — online, at a discount or mass retailer, or even at the grocery store — has never been easier. Unless, that is, you’re concerned about choosing product that’s ethically and sustainably produced. In that case, it may be a challenge to decide which companies claiming to be good guys are on the level.

There are lots of them out there.

Nicole Bernstein’s line of organic, ethically-made bed linen was launched after she moved from the U.S. to Canada, where, according to her website, she found that “high quality, ethically made sheets were almost impossible to find.”

Her White Terry linens www.whiteterry.com are made in Cambodia out of long-staple organic cotton, and meet internationally recognized standards of ISO 9001 / ISO 14001, Oeko-Tex Certified Facilities, and OCS 100 Organic. For more on what these mean, go to www.aroundthehouse.ca .

For Laura Nezri Chetrit, founder of Montreal-based online linen retailer Maison Tess, www.maisontess.com , ethical manufacturing means working with suppliers who “tie into my values, my love of family. I wanted my brand to communicate that, so finding a manufacturer who sees eye to eye with me on a personal level was important.”

The right fit turned out to be a fourth-generation mill in Portugal, which produces Oeko-Tex certified, hypoallergenic washed linen, and long-staple percale cotton sheets made with manufacturers who are members of the Better Cotton Initiative www.bettercotton.org , a non-profit that educates farmers on efficient water use, soil health, preserving natural habitats, reduced chemical use, and fair work environments.

Manufacturing in Portugal means profit margins are slimmer than they would be on Asian product, so the business model is based on web sales (there is a showroom in Montreal). “I took out the middle man, so I could get a more expensive product direct to the consumer,” she says.

Country of origin has always been part of the brand story for Au Lit Fine Linens, says owner Joanna Goodman www.aulitfinelinens.com . Au Lit linens are milled and sewn in either Portugal or Italy, or at factories in Montreal and Toronto. (Fouta towels are made in Turkey.)

“ I have to know the supplier in order trust them,” she says. “I will pop in to check — I need to make sure my stuff is coming from where it says it’s coming from.”

Very occasionally, the choice is taken out of her hands. There are, for example, no duvet shell manufacturers in North America, so those are by necessity made in China (with smaller numbers being made in Poland and Germany.) For some people, says Goodman, the made in China label will be a deal-breaker.

Country of origin clearly matters to some.

With that in mind, I asked Bernstein about the fact that the European Union Commission is looking at suspending Cambodia’s duty-free trade access because of concerns over human rights and democracy.

“ We operate on a micro scale not macro scale so we have control and a closer relationship with our factory and the owner/management team. Because we use a family run factory which is not part of any large mutli-national ( sic ) corporation, the above does not impact us,” she wrote in an email, adding that her “factory partners have written and defined practices relating to employee standards and employer/employee responsibilities with certifications adhered to.”

Straight talk is essential for brands who want to position themselves as ethical, says public relations practitioner Gail McInnes www.magnetcreative.ca , who works with cruelty-free Toronto clothing designer Hilary MacMillan www.hilarymacmillan.com .

“ Today’s shopper wants brands to be open and honest on every single level. The truth is going to come out. If you say you’re ethical but can’t tell me why, you will get called out.”

For Goodman, sharing information is fundamental to an ethical business model. When, for example, a booming parka trade caused skyrocketing down prices, “we were upfront about why our down pillows are $200 (to) $300.” Others, she says, are less transparent. “If you are paying 50 bucks for a pillow, and it’s supposed to be all down — well, sorry, it’s not.”  

– Vicky Sanderson is the editor of Around the House www.aroundthehouse.ca . Follow her on Instagram @athwithvicky, on Twitter @ATHwithVicky and on FB at www.facebook.com/ATHWithVicky

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