Interview: Toxin Free Textiles with Anne Foster, Elkie & Ark

Elkie & Ark is an Australian bedding company, created by Anne Foster, that produces toxin free, fairtrade organic cotton bedding with an emphasis on transparency in the production process that prioritises a better world for all.

What inspires you?

Anyone who upholds a positive attitude to changing the things around them that they don’t like. Not just believe that we have to continue with the status quo or that we are powerless to change. I am also inspired by imagining the world my children could live in – entirely powered on renewable energy, recycling water and significantly changing the consumption and waste habits that we currently have.

I am someone who loves creating change by giving people simple solutions to start to fix the things none of us like in the world.

I come from a background having worked with at risk women, children and communities in various countries across the world, as well as a background in sustainability, clean energy, Environmental Science and finance. I believe business has huge responsibility in changing how it operates and what we offer customers – and how we create and sell our products. So I decided to start fixing it from the ground up with my own business and work. But I am inspired also by beauty and beautiful things around us! I think we should be all aiming for both.

Why organic?

I have followed a much more organic lifestyle since I was pregnant with my first child and the toxins in everyday cleaning or beauty products suddenly smelt incredibly toxic to me.

We choose to ensure all products are certified organic to the highest global standards at every stage of production. Not just where we grow it, or how we produce, dye and finish products – but at every stage.

I also come from a background in Environmental Science and even ocean studies. Wherever toxic pesticides, dyes, materials or other products are used in the world – it impacts the ecosystems around it and in turn – all of us. I don’t believe it is fair that we harm the people who make our goods by exposing them to such toxins and I don’t believe these are things that we want in our homes! I think because there are no ingredients labels, people often forget that so many fabrics use incredibly toxic chemicals, many designed not to wash out or that may take many washes. The EU is better than a lot of places in ensuring fabrics treated in this way are less available, but there are still issues in supply chains.

Are your products fair trade?

Yes. Absolutely. Any products that are made from fairtrade commodities, are grown on fairtrade farms and manufactured in factories covered by fair trade certifications where possible, International Labour rules and also GOTS organic certifications which further supports the rights of workers at each stage of production.

I’ve spent over 10 years living, studying, working and volunteering in sustainability, human rights and low-toxicity and couldn’t understand why the standards I had to uphold in other industries, just fell through the cracks when it came to textiles. Basic environmental and human issues were being ignored or worse – turned a blind eye to.

We don’t want to compromise on our homes and sanctuaries feeling like a beautiful retreat at the end of the day – but we also don’t want to compromise on people’s lives or the planet either. Which is part of what kickstarted the business into being. Our aim is to create a business and products that simply are and do so much better.

Sustainable. Ethical. Beautiful. We don’t do anything by halves.

Paying living wages, funding children’s education, providing safe places to work and travel, taking care of women who uphold so much of the industry, giving parents options, and ensuring basic rights like health insurance and holidays, things you and I take for granted yet so often don’t happen behind the scenes. Not just where we “make” our products, the processes we often hear or talk about – but also in the steps long before.

Why should people care about the products they bring into their homes?

We are all so connected. We need to care about the impact that these products have on ourselves and our families. Food, cleaning or body products many of us are becoming more aware of – but people often forget that our biggest organ is our skin and it absorbs toxins from our clothing or the world around us.

We need to look after our own families and also remember that we don’t live in isolation. We have an impact – and it is easy to make that a good one.

Even washing fabrics often doesn’t solve the issues and on top of this – the products we bring into our home were created in someone else’s home or food supply or backyard. It could have had devastating impacts on their family – or children (which we have experienced first hand and is one of the reasons we started this business) – and it doesn’t stop there. Pesticides used in one area can be found all over the world, including in places like Antarctica.

What chemicals and production processes should people be on the lookout to avoid in bedding?

Dyes and finishing agents are two that often go under the radar. Sometimes bedding is grown organically, or even produced in a manner that is less toxic but we also need to be aware of any toxic dyes, anti-pilling or finishing chemicals that are used. These can be the worst that can lead to rashes, skin irritations or enter our rooms, bodies and waterways.

I would avoid viscose or rayons that are often made using a suite of very toxic chemicals and any fabrics using a polyester or polyester blend.

Note that even more natural fabrics can be treated with toxic substances.

Just a few of the chemicals used to give you an example are:

  • Formaldehyde – commonly used to treat pilling
  • Nanoparticles – their impact on our bodies has not been adequately researched but is often used to boost bacterial resistance in fabrics or in binding charcoal, in lyocell or to bind silver to fabrics
  • Phthalates – often used in prints
  • Toxic dyes, such as AZO dyes – break down into listed carcinogens
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) – a known hormone disruptor

Even if they wash out as some do (although not all) they can then enter water systems and food chains. This can happen locally when we wash them ourselves, or overseas where they are produced – equally entering waterways and food chains that link us all.

GOTS certifications ensures that none of these harmful chemicals are used at any stage.

Whether looking for bedding or clothing, do look out for the GOTS organic certification, the leading global standard that ensures not just that products are not harmful when they reach the end user but also that at each stage they were made organically and to ensure all waste and water from factories was properly treated before being released. The Soil Association works with GOTS in this certification.

Even non-toxic chemicals when used in concentration can harm and unbalance ecosystems that they enter.

There are other labels like OEKO-TEX 100 which ensures the end user is not being exposed to dangerous chemicals but this does not track any processes prior to this. There are also organic certifications like OCIA that cover just how a crop is grown but do not look into the rest of the process.

You can read more here: Why Organic Cotton?

What is your hope for the future health of mankind and our planet?

We are on the cusp of significantly greater automation in our supply chains. This means both a lack of pay and jobs for many workers but also increased strain on our resources as consumption can increase at a lower ‘cost’. I think we all need to very quickly step back from the current mode of consumption, learn about how connected we are in a global world to everyone around us and all the things we eat and use or dispose of everyday and in doing so, we might all find a bit more time to start living life in a way that is a bit less tied down and a lot more fun too!