Specialty Sleep Association (SSA)
There’s more to mattresses than springs.
The Association for Manufacturers, Retailers & Suppliers of Specialty Sleep Products.
Background of the Specialty Sleep Association
“Specialty sleep products” are mattresses without innersprings. This term was coined to describe non-coil mattresses at a time when they really would have been specialties, because the “normal” mattress had metal coil springs. Today, coil-free mattresses are as normal as innersprings, but still bear the “specialty” designation.
First There Was Water
In 1970, almost all mattresses made and sold in North America were innerspring mattresses. There was no lacking in variety, since there were four major kinds of springs – Bonnell coils, pocket coils, offset coils, and continuous coils – and variations within each kind. Some people still slept on all-cotton, horsehair, or down & feather mattresses, but for most these materials were used for padding over the coils.
The modern hard-sided waterbed was developed by Charles Hall in 1968. In the early 1970s waterbeds became popular. It took less than 20 years for them to capture more than a quarter of the mattress market and there were many makers of these flotation mattresses, including Boyd Sleep. The primary reason for this popularity was the evenly distributed support providing pressure on major joints, such as the shoulders and hips. Additionally, the sleeper did not sense individual coils. Manufacturers not only competed with each other, but they also had camaraderie, sharing pride in their specialty.
In Came Air Support
The next specialty sleep category was air support. In 1980, Comfortaire introduced their first adjustable airbeds for permanent bedroom use. With Comfortaire’s success, several waterbed manufactures branched into air beds. Air support cut into the market share for waterbeds. Like water, air support was evenly distributed, that is when pressure was at least medium firm. An added benefit was that air is much lighter, and a leak would not result in a big mess. It was no surprise that waterbed manufacturers began adding adjustable airbeds to their product lines.
Then Came Memory Foam
In 1991, the first memory foam mattress hit the market. It first became a sensation in Sweden and Europe. The next year it was introduced into North America when TEMPUR-Pedic was established in the United States. Since then, memory foam mattresses have been rivaling innerspring models for market share. In fact, memory foam has entered the innerspring market with memory foam comfort layers and hybrid mattresses.
The reason for memory foam’s success was its memory. Memory foam provides even support and pressure relief by conforming to the sleeper’s body contours. Its “memory” ensured that it held its shape instead of continually pushing up. Memory foam quickly made a big dent in the waterbed market, returning waterbeds to genuine specialty status.
Latex Foam Bounces Up
There were latex foam mattresses made in the 1930s and 1950s, but they didn’t really gain much in the market until after memory foam became popular. Part of the reason was the cost – natural latex is not cheap. However, memory foam was not cheap, either, so this made latex foam (otherwise known as foam rubber) look more attractive. Also, the blending of natural latex with synthetic latex produced a more durable product at a lower cost.
Some people prefer latex to memory foam, because it has more bounce. As some say, “You sleep on the foam instead of in the foam.”
A Common Concern
In 1995, memory foam mattresses were still new with only a few brands – at least by comparison with today. However, they were already taking a large bit of market share from waterbeds as well as innersprings. Two waterbed associations, Waterbed Retailers and Waterbed Manufacturers combined with some futon manufacturers and retailers to form the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA). Waterbed sales were declining rapidly. Waterbed companies were branching out to stay in the market while taking advantage of new opportunities. The new organization would help everyone in promoting specialty sleep products as they competed against the mattress giants who made most of the innerspring mattresses. They also collaborated on other mutual concerns.
Now 24 years later, in 2019, specialty sleep as a whole accounts for a significant share of the mattress market. Some specialty sleep manufacturers, such as Innomax, and Boyd Sleep, also make innerspring beds and hybrids. Naturepedic, an SSA member, has been making innerspring mattresses for a long time.
One common concern for the Specialty Sleep Association has been integrity and transparency. In 2010, they began the SSA Environmental & Safety Program (ESP), which was second-party certification. This was in response to consumer concerns about the safety and environmental impact of materials used in bedding products. After several years ESP was discontinued. There are now several internationally recognized third-party certifications for various aspects of bedding materials, so the cost of maintaining the program was no longer justified.
In 2013, SSA began a truth-in-labeling program called Bedfax. A number of mattress manufacturers joined the program, which produced a “What’s in My Mattress” label with all the verified components of the product. Many consumers wanted to know exactly what was in their mattresses. However, by last year there was not enough interest to justify running the program.
Bedfax was suspended last year, with all records kept in case consumer interest again rises.
The Specialty Sleep Association continues on its mission of promoting innovation, transparency, and education among its 67 members. Learn more about Specialty Sleep Association’s transparency programs below.
SSA Environmental & Safety Program
A Response to Public Concerns
In 2010, the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA) launched the Environmental & Safety Program (ESP). The goal of this program was not to enforce certain ecological and safety features and qualifications for specialty sleep mattress, but transparency in claims made in these areas, in other words, “truth in marketing.” This program was supplanted by the Bedfax program in 2016.
What Did ESP Do?
The Specialty Sleep Association is an organization of manufacturers of specialty sleep mattresses (those using support other than innersprings). It began as an association of waterbed manufacturers, but expanded to include makers of adjustable air beds and foam mattresses.
SSA conducted consumer research resulting in the Environmental Claims Report in January 2010. This report showed almost half of consumers were concerned about mattress safety (in fires), about one in seven wanted a mattress without emissions, and more than three quarters would buy a mattress with an understandable and trustable claim of being environmentally friendly. In other words, there was a market demand for safe, healthful, and green.
The Environmental & Safety Program was second party certification. The certification and seals were available to member firms, some only specialty sleep producers, such as Boyd Specialty Sleep (the first company to be certified), and others who also produce innerspring beds, such as Naturepedic.
The ESP process was called “self-certification.” The manufacturer had to first join the program. When that manufacturer applied to use the SSA Green Seal on a mattress, it first filled out a content disclosure form. Mattresses in stores could be taken at random to verify that they consisted of what was listed on the foam.
Then a Consumer Disclosure Label (CDL) was produced. This was printed on the BedFax label.
The Green Seals
There were four levels of compliance The first three are described as follows.
To display the Level I seal, a manufacturer must:
- Disclose materials used in construction and percentages of natural/bio-based and/or recycled content if applicable
- Achieve a minimum of 20% of natural/bio-based or pre-consumer recycled content in component categories of fabric and quilt
- Participate in an annual survey to identify carbon footprint issues and commit to continuous improvement
- Meet all federal safety flammability requirements
- Meet all safety requirements for children’s products if applicable
- Provide a warranty for the product
For the Level II seal, a manufacturer must meet all the requirements of the first threshold and in addition, the products must:
- Disclose materials used in construction and achieve a minimum of 20% of natural/bio-based and/or recycled content material in each component category: fabric, quilt, and core
- Certify that the top fabric (closest to consumer during sleep) contains no harmful substances through either Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Polyurethane foam products much achieve CertiPUR®-US certification
- Latex foam products must achieve Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 certification.1
The Level III seal is the highest that can be achieved. To meet the Level III requirements, a manufacturer must comply with the previous two levels’ requirements and:
- Disclose materials used in construction and achieve a minimum of 70% of natural/biobased material in component categories of fabric and quilt
- Disclose materials used in construction and achieve a minimum of 50% natural/biobased, pre-consumer recycled and/or recycled steel for core
- Certify that the final mattress contains no harmful substances as certified by Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 or Global Organic Textile Standard
- Test the mattress for VOCs emissions
Level IV includes meeting additional requirements and using the BedFax CDL.
As can be seen, Level II and Level III required additional third-party certifications in applicable areas. These are already reviewed here: Oeko-Tex® Standard 100, GOTS, CertiPur-US. Level IV and GOLS were introduced after the news release. The inclusion of another second party certification and two or more third party certifications gives the SSA Green Seals a higher level of confidence than merely second party status.
Life-Cycle of the SSA Environmental & Safety Program
At the time of its introduction, SSA President Dale Read said the seals of the Environmental & Safety Program would “provide an industry standard for what is green, sustainable and natural.” In 2016, the SSA Environmental & Safety Program was ended as SSA’s program of transparency continued with BedFax.
“What you see is what you get”
The above statement is the intent of Bedfax: to answer the question, “What’s in the mattress?
This is done with a label that lists all the ingredients of the mattress and where they are.
What is Bedfax, and how did it begin?
Bedfax says on its website, “Bedfax® is a not-for-profit voluntary Verification Program developed by the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA).” This is what SSA President Dale Read says: “It’s a third-party voluntary mattress industry contents disclosure label program.” The primary concern is transparency and accuracy in listing and labeling the ingredients in bedding products.
Bedfax did not pop up overnight, not even in a few months. It was unveiled at the Winter Market in Las Vegas, January 2016, after three years of development. But the story goes further back than that. It is the outgrowth of and successor to SSA’s Environmental & Safety Program.
Environmental & Safety Program
In 2010, the Specialty Sleep Association launched the Environmental & Safety Program (ESP). The goal of this program was not to enforce certain ecological and safety features and qualifications for specialty sleep mattress, but transparency in claims made in these areas, in other words, “truth in marketing.”
The SSA conducted consumer research resulting in the Environmental Claims Report in January 2010. This report showed almost half of consumers were concerned about mattress safety (in fires), about one in seven wanted a mattress without emissions, and more than three quarters would buy a mattress with an understandable and trustable claim of being environmentally friendly. In other words, there was a market demand for safe, healthful, and green.
The Specialty Sleep Association is an organization of manufacturers of specialty sleep mattresses (those using support other than innersprings). It began as an association of waterbed manufacturers, but expanded to include makers of adjustable air beds and foam mattresses. The certification and seals of the ESP were available to member firms, such as Boyd Specialty Sleep (the first company to be certified).
SSA called the ESP process, “self-certification.” Member firms affirmed that they would accurately label the materials used in their mattresses on a Consumer Disclosure Label (CDL). There were three levels, then four, each with a Green Seal. The expectations were higher for each level. The program ended with the launch of Bedfax. According to Read, “We are no longer a Levels program and we were NEVER a certification program.”
In 2013 Dale Reed, the president of the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA), told Russell Bienenstock, Publisher and Editor of Furniture Today that because “greenwashing” bred confusion over what is in a mattress, customers who were genuinely concerned about how healthful and eco-friendly their mattresses were needed a way to be sure of the contents of a mattress before buying it. He reasoned that not only the customer would benefit, but the mattress industry itself, especially those who made organic and eco-friendly mattresses free from toxins and including natural ingredients from sustainable sources.
What SSA developed was a label which lists the ingredients in each of five parts of the mattress: Top Fabric, Fabric, Quilt/Fill, Core, and Fire Retardant (FR) Barrier. One of the two versions of the Bedfax® Consumer Disclosure Label (CDL) also has a section for certifications. Here are the general definitions for these:
- Top Fabric – top layer of mattress fabric
- Fabric – outer top layer and cloth pilings
- Quilt/Fill – anything under the topper layers (e.g., the “comfort layer”, wool, cotton, foam, low-profile springs in topper, etc.)
- Core – substance layer (e.g., innersprings – open and encased, PU foam, latex foam, wool, horse hair, air-core, gel foam, steel springs, etc.)
- Fire Retardant (FR) Barrier – type of barrier used and location
- Third-party certifications achieved – according with each certification body’s requirements
The goal of Bedfax is transparency by mattress manufacturers and retailers. Many shoppers now read the labels on whatever they buy. This would give an edge among these consumers to those manufacturers who use the label.
Before the CDL can be approved, the manufacturer has to submit documentation and be willing to let mattresses be taken at random and tested. For the manufacturers, this is an opportunity to show what they have. For the retail sales associate, this simplifies answering the customer who asks, “What is in this mattress?” Just point to the tag and say, “It’s all here.” For the customer, it is knowing that What you see is what you get.
This label is still rather new. Bedfax was exhibited at furniture and bedding expositions, and at the 2017 World Market and at the next International Sleep Product Association’s ISPA EXPO. The hope was that it would result in more manufacturers joining. “What you see is what you get” is a good idea so consumers could know the answer to “What’s in the mattress?”
Bedfax Program On Hold
The additional interest by more manufacturers was not as great as hoped for. On August 30, 2018 SSA put the BedFax program on hold. All records are being kept in case there is renewed interest in this lear labeling program.
1 Latex foam with organic natural liquid latex would now be certified through the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).