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Michelle Meyer - The Founder of Cotton Monkey has 'Cotton Roots'.

As children growing up around the cotton fields of West Texas, my sister and I loved to watch the crop dusters, those small planes that hover over fields spraying a cloud of pesticides in their wake. When driving by, we begged our parents to pull over to the side of the road so we could get out and cheer on the planes. The horizon in West Texas extends to eternity; and to me seemed the flattest place on earth. The only vertical elements, oil wells, windmills and cotton gins, were dramatic figures against a big blue sky. The crop dusters were the arms of artists, spraying paint on that huge canvas. I remember hearing that it was a dangerous job, not because of the exposure to chemicals, but because it was necessary to fly very low over the cotton plants and near the edges of the fields where there were telephone poles and power lines. I later learned that Lubbock, the town where I grew up, is the largest cotton producing area in the world.

Crop Sprayer
Even though my family had a long history of cotton farming, I never thought I would have a part in it. It was understood that I buy cotton clothes with “Made in the USA” labels, but I thought that would be the extent of my role. My father chose not to farm, and instead had a furniture business and manufactured his own line of mattresses. I have memories of helping him on Saturday afternoons. One time he turned the cutting tool over to me and told me to cut a strip of fabric ten inches wide. When he came over to inspect my work, he measured and discovered that what had begun as ten inches was now only eight! Either I was too young, or straight lines weren’t my forte. He never asked me to do it again.

Michelle Meyer
In spite of my failure at mattress making, I went on to study Interior Design and then later went to graduate school to study Architecture. I love design, any type of design, and soon discovered that I wanted to incorporate an environmental element as well. This led to getting my LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), so that I would be more knowledgeable about designing sustainable buildings. I learned that specifying something as simple as non-toxic paints or certain types of insulation can make an ecological difference and that positioning the building and the windows according to solar orientation is the most important design decision. Even using materials from within the region is an easy way to make a building more environmentally friendly. It’s mostly common sense, but I had to learn how to get back to the basics.

While awaiting the birth of my son, I set about outfitting the nursery, and discovered there were few choices for organic baby bedding. It was frustrating, since I view every project as a design project, and the pieces I wanted weren’t to be found. I didn’t need the most beautiful fabrics, but a little color would have been nice. I don’t like to compromise, but eventually I chose conventionally grown cotton bedding and redeemed myself by painting the walls with non-toxic paint!

Eyes of the World
This experience made me realize there was a need for colorful and stylish baby bedding that is certified organic, so I began searching for the resources to create my own line. My husband and I traveled with our two-month-old son to Chicago to attend the All Things Organic trade show. I had no idea what I would find there, but I had a gut instinct that I was in the right place. While wandering the trade show floor, which consisted of hundreds of booths for organic food, I came across a booth with printed organic textiles. Actually, all they had was a binder with images of the prints, no fabrics yet, but they were introducing a new line of organic cotton fabrics designed by Harmony Susalla. Harmony is a woman on a mission. She brings exciting prints, made with low-impact dyes, to the textile industry and makes them available to people just like me. After waiting a few months for the fabric to be produced, I ordered it and—remembering that I had no talent for cutting fabric—delivered it to a local sewing contractor.

Due to my “Made in the USA” upbringing, I decided to keep my manufacturing local, and sewing contractors here are grateful to get the work, since much of it has gone overseas or to Mexico. By manufacturing my bedding here, I have the comfort of knowing that there are no child laborers and all of the workers are fairly compensated. The contractor I currently use has a facility housed in an old gas station, which has plenty of natural light and during nice weather, he can even open the garage door for natural ventilation. I have to admit that I have had to educate my contractors about organic cotton, because before I came along, they had never heard of such a thing. But now that they know, they think it makes sense, especially for babies.

Cotton Fields
I chose the name, Cotton Monkey, because I wanted something that indicated playfulness. It’s easily remembered yet doesn’t hammer the message of organic or green, because it is my hope that organic fabrics will become the norm and brands won’t need to distinguish themselves one way or the other. I also wanted a name that could easily transition to mainstream baby boutiques.

Growing up around cotton I never knew how poisonous conventional cotton farming was. Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture. The numbers are staggering, conventional cotton farming uses approximately 2.5% of the world's farmland but consumes 25% of the world's chemical insecticides. Not only is organic cotton good for babies, but also it is good for the water, air, wildlife, farmers and everyone. Now, when I am driving with my son and we see a crop duster, we roll up the windows!

Michelle Meyer

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