“35% of all micro plastics in the world’s oceans are from synthetic textiles”International Union for Conservation of Nature
There are over 1600 known species of Bamboo across many parts of the tropics and subtropics, with thousands of uses – including for the production of fabrics and yarn for the fashion industry.
Why choose (clothing made) from Bamboo fabric?
Bamboo is environmentally friendly: not only is it a renewable resource, but pesticides and fungicides are not required during farming. In fact, there is no other plant used in clothing that is as well-suited and gentle on our precious planet than Bamboo.
- Its hypoallergenic.
- Bamboo absorbs and evaporates sweat very easily (40% more absorbent than even the finest organic cotton), taking moisture away from the skin.
- It has anti-bacterial, toxin-absorbing properties.
- Practicality – It is breathable (and yet opaque) – therefore exceptionally good in a wide range of temperatures, has anti-UV radiation properties – therefore it is suitable for making summer clothing for protecting skin – AND great insulating properties – therefore the fabric keeps the wearer warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
- Bamboo fabric has higher strength, resilience and elongation than in other man-made fibres and cottons – and much less pilling! It keeps its shape nicely.
- It is easy to wash (even at low temperatures) and iron
- Fabrics require far less dye than cotton, they also colour exceptionally well.
Bamboo fabrics sound like a no-brainer, right? Sadly, things are not all that simple….
The Bamboo Fabric Conundrum
If you had asked me if bamboo fabric is sustainable 5 years ago, I would have said “yes” …. Now I have to do research and question anyone who says they produce “sustainable bamboo” fabric or clothing.
Cellulosic fabrics derive from cellulose – the main constituent of plant cell walls – using fibres from wood or woody plants like bamboo. This is not a new concept, by any means! Produced in the 1890s as ‘rayon’, these fibres are referred to as ‘manufactured’, ‘regenerated’ or ‘semi-synthetic’. Cellulosic fabrics (including rayon / viscose), account for 8.7% of global fibre production, a share which is expected to grow considerably over the next decade.
Problem #1: Fabric descriptions can often be used interchangeably, which can cause confusion when making purchase decisions… what is worse is that all have a different meaning!
- Rayon: The general term for regenerated cellulose fibres. Rayon is considered a semi-synthetic material as the cellulose fibres are natural but always broken-down using chemicals.
- Viscose: Regenerated cellulose fibre made from wood pulp or plants using the viscose process. The wood pulp is treated with chemicals, filtered, and then spun into thread.
- Modal: A stronger version of viscose. Modal is often blended with other textiles to make it even stronger, such as cotton and elastics.
- Lyocell: Similar to viscose and modal, but it is made using a different solvent. Lyocell is produced in a solvent-spinning technique called dry jet-wet spinning.
- TENCEL: The branded version of lyocell and modal. TENCEL is often considered the most sustainable way to produce cellulose fibre-based fabrics. It focuses on closed-loop production and using less resource-intensive processes.
Around 95% of fabrics described as ‘bamboo’ are essentially “viscose” – derived from bamboo pulp but processed with heavy chemicals and producing harmful emissions. There is much more to bamboo fabric than its physical properties and origins. The emergence of Bamboo cellulosics blended with milk protein, oranges, seaweed and coffee grounds does give us some hope, however!
Problem #2: Although bamboo is a much more sustainable option compared to non-organic cotton (hugely environmentally damaging), and despite their natural origins, cellulosics commonly used in clothing share similar processing methods – and negative impacts – with synthetics.
- Some cellulosics use closed-loop processing …. BUT it should be noted that, even when bamboo fabric is produced in a closed-loop system, there will always be toxic waste.
- To make matters worse, it is not enough to check for Oeko-tex certification to ensure adherence to people and planet friendly manufacturing processes! OEKO-Tex 100 is the most comprehensive certificate, as it means that the fabrics have been tested by independent labs to make sure that they’re either free from or contain harmless levels of compounds and elements that are known to be harmful. BUT, this neither refers to the chemicals used during the production process nor ensures the chemicals were disposed of responsibly.
How we, the consumers, can lead the way
If we stop buying fabric / clothing “blindly”, avoid “fast-fashion” and do some research, we CAN help steer the Bamboo Fabric / Clothing industry in the right direction! Before making any purchase, research if the fabric / fashion brand is able to provide you with evidence of:
- how their toxic waste is responsibly disposed of?
- their hazardous waste facilities?
- what water treatment is involved in the production process?
- how their plantations are managed?
Remember, we also need to look after the human element of our environment! Ask:
- How they looking after their employees? (From seed to shop?!)
- Are they “FairTrade?
By doing so, we can drive change in the textile & fashion industries! Staying ignorant about the origins of your fabric, yarn and/or clothing is no longer an option.
- Madheswaran, K.S. & Kannappan, J. & Govindan, Ramakrishnan & Jagannathan, Srinivasan. (2013). Mechanical and comfort properties of yarn and fabrics made of bamboo fibre. 44. 35-37.
- Rathod, A.R. & Kolhatkar, A.W.. (2010). Comparison of bamboo and cotton yarn. Asian Textile Journal. 19. 44-46.
- The Common Objective
- The Sustainable Fashion Collective
- The World Bamboo Organisation