Eco-friendly children's clothing and furniture are all the rage. Where to shop
To fulfill parents' desire to keep toxins out of the nursery and off their baby's skin, a handful of eco-friendly baby stores have opened around Chicago recently. While there's clearly overlap among them, each also has managed to carve out its own special niche.
Wicker Park-based Grow Modern Kids (1943 W. Division St.; 773-489-0009, grow-kids.com) grew out of owner Deree Kobets's fruitless search for eco-friendly, contemporary nursery furnishings when she was pregnant with her first child five years ago. "Our home had always been modern, but I couldn't find modern baby furniture [in the stores]," Kobets says. "I started to see some things on the Internet, but parents want to touch and feel these things, to know they're safe." So after her second daughter was born, in 2006, Kobets opened her boutique, which focuses on a small but growing number of sleek-looking, environmentally friendly baby furniture lines. The shop also carries baby and kids' clothes made with chemical-free fabrics, including those from Kate Quinn Organics. Kobets likes the brand because Quinn takes special care to use low-impact dyes and double-filters the water from manufacturing before it enters the local eco-system. Kobets says she wants to feature more products from companies that use sustainable practices throughout their businesses. "What I want to know is, are they going the extra mile?" she says. "Or are they doing organic just because it's cool?"
Be By Baby (1654 W. Roscoe St.; 773-404-2229, bebybaby.com), which opened in Lake View in 2006, started as a friendship between Courtney Baros and Kathy Poehlmann, who met several years ago at a mother-baby yoga class. Both were frustrated by the lack of brick-and-mortar stores to find natural baby products. "There was no place to buy them except the Internet," Poehlmann recalls. "There was no one to talk to about how to wear a sling, how to use cloth diapers. We opened [Be By Baby] because it was something that didn't exist when we had our children." Besides creating a cheerful shop brimming with adorable organic cotton baby clothing, cloth diapers, dozens of baby slings, and 42 styles of nursing bras, Baros and Poehlmann also offer play groups and a variety of classes, such as breastfeeding, cloth diapering, sling wearing, infant massage, and baby sign language. "Mothering can be really isolating," Poehlmann points out. Adds Baros, "We wanted to create a place where you can drop in, nurse your baby, and meet other mothers. That mom-to-mom experience is really important."
Evanston's Healthy Green Goods (702 Main St., Evanston; 847-864-9098, healthygreengoods.com), also launched in 2006, is a much broader home goods store, where the main criterion for carrying products is that they're healthful, not necessarily eco-friendly. "You can be green without being healthy," points out owner Marny Turvill, a pediatrician who was inspired to start her business after learning she had multiple chemical sensitivities. That cute purse made from recycled tires, for instance, may keep waste out of a landfill, she says, but the rubber still outgases volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are linked to a host of health problems.
Nevertheless, Turvill says, green products generally are better because they avoid toxic ingredients and residues found in mainstream goods. Thus the towels, bedding, and mattresses sold at her store are organic cotton with no chemical flame retardants; the cribs and bed frames are made from sustainably harvested solid maple with natural, nontoxic finishes; and water bottles, including sippy cups, are made from plastic-free stainless steel. The store also carries VOC-free paints, natural cleaning products, eco-friendly floor coverings, and natural body-care products. Like the other two stores, Healthy Green Goods carries organic cotton baby wear, which can be expensive. Turvill acknowledges a lack of scientific evidence on whether clothing made from conventionally grown cotton contains residues that may be harmful to the wearer. "But almost all conventional cotton has finishing chemicals, like sizing [used to prevent wrinkling], which is formaldehyde-based and designed not to wash out," she says. "Organic cotton is going to wrinkle. But wrinkles never caused brain damage."
Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp
Illustration: Julia Kuhl