Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Soap Box

Let's face it, it is near impossible to avoid all chemicals and synthetics in today's world. Sometimes we even choose them. (hair color? cold remedies? fuel?) How many of us have converted our automobiles to run on corn oil? I have yet to find an all natural high lighting product that can do what my hair stylist does. And what are those little white Styrofoam-like pellets in the potting soil? If one of my children is ill, I want every advancement in medical science at my doctor's finger tips. I don't care if a life saving medicine is made from a synthetic compound or bird droppings as long as it is effective and safe. To a certain extent, as average Joes and Janes, we need to trust that certain laboratory discoveries work in our favor. What we can do - should we choose to - is educate ourselves and pick a level of naturalness that suites us and our families.

So, now we have decided to avoid those chemicals that we can and search out healthier alternatives. (Okay - I decided for you but stick with me for a bit.) Trying to keep natural or, gasp, organic - can be truly stressful. Did you know that there are three different degrees of organic certification for products and/or ingredients that want to claim they are organic? Even still, during our supplier research phase while developing Plunk, we found many wholesalers claiming organic products that balked when asked to provide their certification. Their varying degrees of indignation were comical at times. They seemed to have a hard time grasping that THEIR product was to be used in OUR product so THEIR claims would become OURS and we had to cover OUR collective hindquarters. At least organic claims are somewhat regulated if not very well policed. Then again, given the apparent elevated costs of producing anything organic, the price of conscientiously policing the organic world would be great. I assume the these police would need to wear hand sewn, organic, hemp uniforms, travel in cost prohibitive hybrid vehicles and use only recycled paper products, (which generally costs twice as much as the new stuff).

The guidelines for claiming a product is natural are so loose they are nearly meaningless. According to the FDA, a product needs only be 70% natural to carry that label. So... if a 10 ounce tub of face cream is made with 3 ounces of formaldehyde laden plastic pellets... it is natural. Not necessarily good for you, but natural nonetheless. Good to know. Knowing this, we opted to use our own guidelines to produce our natural products. Our definition of natural became this: a product devoid of synthetic chemicals and preservatives.

While we are not yet wearing socks with our Birkenstocks, we have become suburban vigilantes. One of our covert activities is Googling ingredients that have names that sound suspicious to our not-so-technically-inclined-brains. This has forced us to actually read explanations about how some of our ingredients are derived from nature. Sometimes we found that an ingredient was so far removed from nature that it was kinda like claiming a fifth cousin twice removed by marriage.

Our next hurdle was deciding how best to market our product that would convey to potential customers, how natural we made every attempt to be. Ah ha! Market it on a selling site known for it's handmade products. Imagine our dismay when our products were grouped with similar products claiming to be all natural, that contained scents called "Ocean Breeze" and "Rain Puddles". Well... maybe there is a way to squeeze parts of the sea or a puddle to extract the pure essence of their particular scent that our research has not uncovered. Wonder if that is a steam distillation process or something involving evaporation? At any rate, the puddles in my neighborhood smell like a combination of motor oil and the poorly contained garbage of those who live UP the hill. Maybe if we used that scent AND made it neon pink.... I even went so far as to start a thread topic on this selling site that asked, as hand crafters, what standard are we using to police ourselves in the use of the term natural. The responses were very revealing. Those who were quite obviously using the FDA's guideline for natural by using synthetic scents and colors, were openly defensive. Those who made a product much purer than mine, offered definitions, camaraderie and assistance.

We will continue to make a product as natural as we can. While we don't know the quantity of fossil fuels burned to make our natural product, we will buy as locally as available, car pool to our shows and use fluorescent light bulbs.