"Green" babies are everywhere these days.
A growing number of moms and dads are spending a little extra to make sure their babies are healthy, happy and doing their part to save the planet. Natural and organic baby care products — everything from food to bedding — represent a fast-growing niche in the $30 billion baby products industry, experts say.
Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Babies "R" Us and Macy's are noticing an increased demand for such products and carrying more eco-friendly products than they did, even compared to a year ago. And the green theme will be hard to miss at the American Baby Faire, the nation's largest infant and parenting expo, which will return to South Florida this weekend at the Broward Convention Center.
"Some parents have embraced the green trend wholeheartedly, and they're looking to raise a green baby," said Jamie Beal, spokeswoman for Babies "R" Us. Others, she said, have new concerns: keeping their little ones away from chemicals and allergens that go into the manufacturing process of everything from food to cotton apparel.
"It's more than a trend," Beal said. "It's a lifestyle."
Green babies are an extension of the same mainstream audience that shops at health-food stores, drives hybrid vehicles and browses the Internet for stylish, organic-fiber clothing to wear, she and others say.
Delray Beach mom Ellen Feeney has opted to purchase organic baby wash, food and onesies for her 6-month-old Serena.
"I started off just wanting to give my friends nice, fun gifts, and now I'm a big fan," Feeney said. The 39-year-old mom is impressed with the quality, softness and durability of organic cotton.
"It's not like when I was growing up," Feeney said. "It's mainstream. It's not like you're a hippie or trying to put rough hemp on your baby's back."
Hollywood's celebrity parents also are fueling the trend: Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, Nicole Richie and Joel Madden all have been seen pampering their kids with eco-friendly products. Sheryl Crow hosted an eco-baby shower. Punky Brewster star Soleil Moon Frye opened an eco-friendly baby store in Los Angeles called The Little Seed.
Eco-friendly products, including toys, also are becoming popular with parents in the aftermath of millions of toy recalls on Chinese-made, lead-containing playthings by Mattel and Fisher-Price.
"The recalls definitely scared a lot of people last year," said Jessica Hartshorn, senior lifestyle editor at American Baby magazine. "So you're looking for things made with child safety in mind."
Traditional cotton fibers are treated with chemical dyes often containing pesticides and other chemicals that can irritate babies' sensitive skin and runoff into the environment damaging the air, water and soil, said Marci Zaroff, founder and owner of Under the Canopy, a Boca Raton-based organic apparel and home goods company.
"The consumer is just starting to learn about organic fibers," Zaroff said. Soon, organic baby clothing will become as widespread as organic food is in traditional grocery stores, she said.
Already, Zaroff's company is profiting from the growing demand for organic baby products through its collection of baby tees, onesies, blankets and bibs.
The brand is featured in several Macy's stores and soon will have a presence in the chain's department stores nationwide. The company also recently signed a deal to offer its organic baby line to Babies "R" Us. And this fall, Under the Canopy will expand its collection to include baby fashion sets, sheets, comforters, towels and robes, Zaroff said.
Organic baby items now are becoming more affordable, Hartshorn said. The markup is about 10 or 20 cents on organic food and about $1 for organic cotton baby clothes. But there's still a wide gap in categories such as bath products, she said, noting organic bath wash costs about five times more than traditional cleansers.
Feeney says the organic clothing in Serena's closet — which includes onesies from Under the Canopy — has washed better than some of the traditional cotton pieces, making it worth the few extra dollars.
Besides, she adds, "Knowing that these products aren't made with harmful chemicals, you can't help but feeling better."
Jaclyn Giovis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4668.