I have seen a lot of cycles during my 41 years in the furniture and mattress business. A cycle starts with a good product, well made and well received; soon other manufacturers and retailers notice the product and the inevitable cheapening of the product begins. Corners get cut, quality is lost to price and inevitably, the original company that manufactured the quality product stops producing it. The cheap and poorly made copies reduce the demand because of their inferior quality and the product becomes nothing but a commodity, a footnote in the history of that furnishing category. Some examples of this cycle that come to mind are metal bunk beds, black lacquer furniture, and metal and brass beds. There are many others.
I can now foresee this occurring with a product that is near and dear to my heart – latex mattresses. First, let me say that after 41 years in the mattress business, I believe that there is no better mattress material for comfort and longevity than pure botanical latex. A mattess made solely with 100% botanical latex should last 15 to 25 years with little loss of comfort or support. Such a mattress should show little or no depression over that time. Latex Mattresses have been our specialty for the past 24 years with 25 different models on our floor, most built to our own designs, two-sided and flippable. So, what is the problem?
Lately, latex has become the hot item and the cheapening in price and quality is happening. Many stores have “discovered” latex and many manufacturers, to get an edge, are using synthetic latex (SBR – Styrene Butadiene Rubber, made from petroleum and solvents) because it is cheaper. Many are calling their product “Natural”. Some are laminating an inch or two of SBR latex to a block of polyurethane foam and calling it a latex mattress. Often they are only upholstered on one side, eliminating the ability to flip the mattress to get maximum life and comfort. The unwary or uninformed consumer is the victim of these retailers, often paying a high price in both money and the sting of poor quality. Many of these manufacturers and retailers represent their products as natural or pure latex. The latex is inside the mattress so they are unlikely to be caught lying. Unfortunately, even researching on the internet is difficult because there is a lot of deception. One manufacturer of synthetic latex represents their latex as being all natural and has flooded the internet with smoke and mirrors. Their “signature product is 80% synthetic SBR and 20% botanical. The product is “tested” to be longer lasting than botanical latex but the test is done at 158 degrees, the lowest temperature where it can test as durable. Also, petroleum and solvent based synthetic latex, unlike botanical latex, offgasses noticeably for many weeks and even months after opening the mattress.
All of this cheapening of the product I call a race to the bottom. My concern is that the outstanding reputation, much deserved, of botanical latex will be sullied by negative reviews of broken down mattresses represented as latex. The pressure is on to compromise, to appease the consumer who shops price alone without understanding what they are getting. We won’t do it. The same thing happened with the “Can’t Flip” “No Flip” mattresses, but we have found taking the high road is best. Sticking with durable products is in the best interest of our customers, our store, and our planet.
I do hold out hope that the cycle for latex will be different and that the consumer will be better informed. I don’t hold out much hope that the manufacturers and retailers will get a conscience.