Materials Factsheet

Coir/Coconut Fibre

Background

Coir is a hard-wearing, versatile, natural material that's used as a filler for furniture.

Coir is made from a mixture of natural coconut fibres - collected from the outer husk of either unripe, green or mature brown coconuts - and latex.

It's a waste product from the coconut industry. The food industry is the main consumer of coconuts, but it focuses on the coconut 'meat', jettisoning the fibres as a waste product.  Recent consumer trends toward coconut water and oil means there's a surplus of coconut husk, which might go to waste without the coir industry.  

There are five steps to making coconut fibre: harvesting, husking, retting, separating the fibre, and finishing. While harvesting is done manually, all the other steps can be done either manually or mechanically, with the latter unsurprisingly being faster and more efficient.

The loose mat of finished coconut fibre is sprayed with either natural or synthetic latex, which acts as a glue that's then dried, heated, and treated with sulphur to harden the rubber - a process called vulcanising).

The latex can be 100% natural or 100% man-made, or a combination of the two, with the difference not always made clear by manufacturers.

Natural latex is rubber, so comes from a renewable resource, namely the sap of the Hevea Brasiliensis (rubber) tree, which is cultivated mainly in South East Asia.

Coir can also be treated with natural additives to meet a range of international fire retardancy standards.

Tough and resilient - coir is very tough. The coconut fibres are extremely strong and can be stretched or compressed without damaging them, and they hardly deteriorate at all over time.

Flexible and adaptable - despite this toughness, coir is also elastic.

Naturally adapted to humans - coir is naturally adapted to the human body, as it can absorb moisture, and its open and resilient structure can be used to create a good micro-climate - an advantage for furniture. Latex is non-toxic, inherently hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and resistant to mould, mildew & dust mite. It's also not highly flammable, and has little or no off-gassing associated with it.

Renewable and biodegradable - as plant-based products, both coconut palms and rubber trees can be regrown, and both coir and natural latex are biodegradable.

Made from waste - coir is made from a waste product that was traditionally discarded or burned, increasing our carbon problems.

Sustainable options - both coconut and natural latex can be farmed in sustainable planting programs by both large-scale plantations and small farmers.

Water - coir requires significant amounts of valuable water to process it, which is left polluted afterwards.

Biodiversity - the increase of monoculture coconut plantations and the use of pesticides is destroying biodiversity in those areas.

Air miles - coir is primarily manufactured in Sri Lanka and India, meaning it comes with a heavy carbon burden due to shipping.

Energy intensive - natural rubber has high energy production costs, although a smaller footprint than either polyurethane foams.

Local communities - it's argued that the coir industry deprives the indigenous peoples of the coir-producing benefits of a product that they can and do use themselves, just so that richer westerners can use it.

Limited supply of natural rubber - natural rubber is restricted to a limited supply.

Petroleum-based synthetic latex - synthetic latex is petroleum based and made from styrene chemicals, which are toxic to the lungs, liver and brain, in a production process that uses a lot of energy.

Can’t get really wet - though moisture-resistant, coir gets damaged when it gets really wet.

Firm - the tough nature of coir produces a firm padding.

Prone to sagging - coconut fibre padding gets slumped when the body rests on it.

Our Position

As a start-up, we’re lucky – we can bed good practices into our business model right from the get go. Coir/coconut fibre and latex has a key role to play in those good practices, given that padding is absolutely integral to cushions and furniture items.

We really like coir, given that it's a natural, renewable, toxin-free, resilient, durable but biodegradable material that's a widely available waste product from the food industry - albeit one whose potential impacts on biodiversity and local communities do need to be carefully navigated.

At now, sit down, we will:

Use organic coir, made with natural latex, if possible
Use non-organic coir as our first preference if organic coir made with natural latex isn't available
Accept non-organic coir made with synthetic latex if necessary, if the alternative would be to use polyurethane foam (which we absolutely hate)
If we have to use anything other than organic coir made with natural latex, we'll explain the reasons why and set out a roadmap to stop using that other material as soon as possible