Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.
A little over 5 years ago I had twins. More than my older daughter they were sensitive to everything. They were allergic to diapers and creams and ‘hypo allergenic’ washes and lotions. They vomited when I breastfed them on “the” foam pillow I was supposed to be using. I couldn’t figure out what was making my kids sick. But I have a Masters in Journalism and started to research what was happening. What I learned about the products for sale in this country, the toxic chemicals in them, and the impact of those items on our health was horrifying.
It turns out some of those lotions and washes contained things like DMDM Hydantoin which will release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. That foam pillow was off-gassing VOCs linked to delayed mental and behavioral development, cancer, decreased fertility and more.
Here’s what I learned: The problem is that with scant legislation and little to no regulation around chemicals in commerce, many products that we use everyday contain toxic chemicals that can seriously harm our health and the health of our families. In fact, the situation is so egregious that Dr. Philip Landrigan, a leading MD and Dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has said, “We’re conducting a vast toxicological experiment and we are using our children as experimental animals.”
The current system means that the burden is on us to try to figure out what’s safe and what’s not. And it’s not easy, not by a long shot. I’ve been that woman standing in a store aisle for far too long bewildered about the choices of what to buy, wondering which marketing claim to trust. Is this product really ‘natural’, ‘eco’ or ‘green’? And just what does that mean anyway? I’ve read countless ingredient labels and searched apps on my phone trying to decide what score means a product is ok to use. And I’m not going to lie—I thought about giving up and giving in to all those people who say that it doesn’t matter how hard we try to avoid toxic chemicals because it won’t make a difference.
And finally I thought, “This is ridiculous.” There ARE things we can do to make a difference. Those people who tell you it doesn’t matter? That protects the status quo that allows known carcinogens and reproductive toxins to remain in things we use daily. Not only that, but it’s not true. Studies show that people who make an effort to use less toxic products like switching cosmetics or avoiding canned food can significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies.
I thought, “If it's easy to find items that won't harm your family, most moms I've ever met will buy them.”
That was what led me to start MADE SAFE™ (Made With Safe Ingredients™), the first human health-focused certification in the country to cross consumer product categories. MADE SAFE certifies products across store aisles that are made without toxic chemicals known to harm human health, from baby and household products to personal care and cosmetics. I founded MADE SAFE because we should all have the power to make safer choices and avoid toxic chemicals that can harm our own or our families’ health.
The MADE SAFE seal means products are made without known carcinogens, behavioral, reproductive, and neuro toxins, hormone disruptors, heavy metals, pesticides, insecticides, flame retardants, toxic solvents, and harmful VOCs. But what it really means is that for all those parents desperate to find products that are safe to use with their families in their homes, the MADE SAFE seal is the first real solution.
We made history when we launched with a dozen brands that sell MADE SAFE certified products in stores from Target and Costco to Whole Foods and online. Participating brands include Alaffia, Annmarie Gianni Skin Care, Good Clean Love, Healthy hoohoo, Lullaby Earth, Just So, Oilogic, Meliora, Naturepedic, Pura Stainless, Rejuva Minerals, Sustain, S.W. Basics, True Botanicals.
What do your kids think about your job?
I wish I could tell you that they think it's cool. That's the answer I want to give. But the truth is my job makes us different. It means I know an awful lot about everything that goes into making products they want (dolls, scented markers, plastic toys, disposable fashion, kids jewelry, play make-up, even electronics!). I'm really careful about screening what we buy through the strictest of filters. I can usually come up with at least 10 reasons for why we're not going to buy that item that everyone else around them has: endocrine disruptors (they'll thank me later when they don't struggle with fertility), or carcinogens (and they’ll escape the statistic of being the 1 out 3 women with breast cancer or 1 of 2 men with prostate cancer), or the threat of potential lead in everything from play jewelry to make-up (they won’t feel neurological impacts years down the road)… The list goes on. And this sucks. I can come across as “Captain No” an awful lot which does not make my job seem so fun. But that's the point. I know this stuff and most people don't, and that’s my driving force for why I want this *shit* off of the market.
However. There are those beautiful, oh-to-be-savored moments when the stars align and someone else is talking about toxins and harm. Once we had a guide at the San Diego Zoo who addressed the threats to an endangered species, including environmental pollution—and my kids made the connection to my work! The very toxins that are in so much of our "stuff" can be really harmful in the environment to the animals and wildlife my kids love. They looked at me like I was a hero. That was a good day. I love those moments! As they get older and learn about these things for themselves, I hope they will appreciate the work that I do—not just for them, but for the next generations. In the meantime, we swim upstream.
Tell us about a total mom + biz fail?
There was the day I was trying to tell my daughter why the artificial ingredients in conventional candy are bad. Let me add that I was suggesting only that she eat the organic, Mom-Approved candy instead. But she thought I was putting the kibosh on all candy, and so she stood there at all of age 6 with her hands on her hips shouting, "No Mommy, chemicals are good!" Sigh.
Share with us a total win (brag away!)
I will always remember the day I was talking to an internationally-known chemist with a PhD who said to me: "Thank God you are doing this work, Amy. You're the only person brave enough to take this on. Truly. You are the perfect person to do this. Thank you. For all of us."
The thing is that it happens regularly that doctors, chemists, scientist, PhDs—people who are so much smarter than me—thank me for doing this work and commend me for the seriousness with which we have taken to set up MADE SAFE. These are good reminders when I'm having a rough day. We all need encouragement to keep us going when we are faced with daunting tasks, and having the support of the scientific and medical community is fuel for my fire.
What's your relationship with Mamalode?
MADE SAFE’s marketing director lives in Missoula, MT, where Mamalode was founded. Back in the day, Cassidy used to work with Mamalode’s publisher Dori Gilels when they were both at Women’s Voices for the Earth. WVE is now a well-respected national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm women’s health, and we regularly consult with their team on issues like toxic chemicals in fragrance and ingredient disclosure.
I live in New York, and prior to meeting Cassidy, I would never have guessed that a tiny town like Missoula, in the middle of quiet Montana, was the hub of such impact along the spectrum from WVE to Mamalode. It shows that the movement for our health knows no geographical boundaries, and I quite like that.