Naturally Harrison takes steps for a greener tomorrow
As I walked into the foyer of his apartment building in downtown Santa Monica, Harrison Wills began our conversation by introducing himself and immediately pointing out the abundance of energy wasted due to the inefficiency of his building's design. He spoke, with great contempt, of the dim, overhead track lighting leading to the elevator, and the lamp that stood in the corner of the lobby, which he points out is carelessly left on all night, every night.
Once we made it upstairs into his apartment it became clear that the passion in his speech went beyond the wasteful lighting in his lobby, and permeated his entire life as an earth conscious, health conscious, and socially active person.
As he spoke about ideas that he had for environmentally friendly services, and how his business endeavors have improved not only his own life, but also the lives of those around him, his eyes lit up in a way that reflected the inner-workings of a creative entrepreneur's mind.
One of his most successful and developed projects has been his green business, Naturally Harrison, an eco-friendly mattress and bedding provider. The company supplies customers with mattresses that are made with natural rubber, eco-wool, and organic cotton, and in turn are "chemical free (certified by green guard), hypoallergenic, durable, breathable and made from 100% plant, chemical free, materials," according to the website, www.naturallyharrison.com.
Born in North Carolina, Wills grew up in the world of bedding. His family was involved with the industry for over 50 years, making him inherently connected to the trade. In addition to his history of being associated with the mattress business Wills witnessed the encroaching sickness of his mother over the course of his childhood, due to her houses close proximity to farms that were heavily sprayed with DDT. This personal experience sparked an interest in clean, healthy living practices and policies to support such lifestyles.
After working odd jobs throughout high school and college Wills found himself questioning the practices of the large companies employing him. The environments that he worked in fostered very little creativity and input from employees, so in 2008 Wills and a team of students committed themselves to expanding on a passion of his: eco-friendly bedding.
Not only did Wills and his companions want to make the final product natural, but wanted the process, from start to finish, to have as little impact on the earth and its inhabitants as possible.
When SMC student Albany Katz, who spends her nights asleep on a yellow foam pad, asked what was "wrong" with using that material, or any conventional mattress, as a sleeping surface, Wills addressed health concerns as well as social and economical concerns.
Although his initial response to the question was, "Oh that's bad," in a very grim tone, Wills assured her that it wouldn't kill her immediately, but in the long run there are concerns to keep in mind.
"Economically you're supporting oil companies, and then when you put that in landfills it affects the water quality, and health-wise it off gases, which is why a lot of people buy older beds. But regardless of whether you bought it new or not, someone made that. The person who was handling [the toxic materials] with gloves or factory attire, he's exposed to that. The neighborhoods that live around [factories], they're exposed to that. Then there's the extracting of the oil... so really, it goes back to the beginning, the root, of a lot of issues we're dealing with now. It's a bigger picture. You may look at it and say ‘Oh it's not going to kill you it's fine,' but it's having a negative impact on the environment as a whole."
Supported with environmental studies and non-profit community studies, which Wills continues to pursue at SMC, he has developed a concept or a simple idea, into a thriving business.
In two years Naturally Harrison has made progress with getting a website up and running, developing a customer basis, and finding employees to work for commission promoting the product around Los Angeles.
As a student, businessman, boyfriend, and son Wills has found himself under pressure in many areas of his life, and is currently finding ways to overcome those obstacles. To his surprise his life has taken a turn that, looking back, his "high school self" would have never anticipated.
It now involves scheduling promised phone calls to his girlfriend everyday at 3:30 p.m., his mom every weekend, using the dreaded day planner, and organizing his class schedule to leave a few hours between each class for eating, working, and studying.
Despite his ability to plan his life around these commitments, there have been issues from time to time that he'd like to solve in order to stay true to his responsibility as a green business.
"I think as you grow you have time to take time off and do research. You can say, ‘My rent is paid for a month, I'm not going to take winter classes, I'm going to spend all of winter researching.' It's hard to time manage, but it's something that I definitely know is a possibility."
One concern that he has about his product involves the main component of the mattress, a natural rubber collected from the Hevea brasiliensis tree.
"It grows ten degrees from the equator... it originally came from the jungles of Brazil... so it's great, but it's coming from Brazil," said Wills. "The only issue that I have with that is that it's taking a lot of oil to get it here. The cotton is from Texas, the wool is from Northern California and Southern Oregon, [the bed] is made in California, so everything else is made locally, and it's really hard to find a product where every piece of it is made in the US."
Even though he has made little progress with attempts to find places to grow the tree here, he has developed a plan in the mean time to reduce his company's impact on the environment.
"What I'm trying to do about that is find containers that use bio-diesel, ultra-low sulphur diesel, and electric fork lifts," said Wills. "They'll use cleaner burning, updated, retrofitted trucks to deliver it from port to manufacturing, so I look at the whole process."
In spite of these setbacks, Wills has found himself enjoying the development of Naturally Harrison. Unlike typical college students he celebrates life and his accomplishments by simply relishing in the fact that him and his business partners make an impact on the earth, and can be confident in saying that it's been a positive one.
"I'm in no rush to take over the world, the goal though is for me to use creativity to create solution."