Beautiful bountiful bamboo: gorgeous to wear, but is it sustainable?
Of all the eco fabrics that are on the market, by far the break out star in the past decade has been bamboo. While it’s not the most sustainable (that would be our namesake, hemp), it is arguably the easiest to work with, and the softest to wear. We love hemp, but it’s not as soft, and bamboo keeps it’s colour better. Soy just doesn’t have the same quality of feel, no matter how soft it is. And organic cotton, is, well, kind of like …salt…kind of boring, but totally necessary, and in everything.
What is bamboo fabric made of?
Bamboo is actually qualified as a grass, not a tree. It’s made from the pulp of the incredible, fast-growing, naturally pest resistant bamboo plant. Like soy, bamboo is broken down into pulp either with enzymes or chemicals, and then turned into fibre threads that are woven into bamboo fabrics. Bamboo fabric is referred to as Rayon as it is artificially constructed out of the pulp of the plant, through either a natural enzymatic or chemical process. But let’s be honest, 99.95 of the bamboo out there is processed chemically, which begs the question…
How sustainable is bamboo really?
Yup here is where things get…complicated. So bamboo the plant is incredibly sustainable. Like hemp, it grows quickly, just about anywhere, and doesn’t need pesticides. It’s fully matured in 4 years, and the most of the plant can be used to make fabric. It also absorbs colour better than any other fabric, meaning less chemical dyes at that end.
The chemicals used in bamboo production are intense and caustic. Mainstream bamboo has the plant soaked in sodium hydroxide, and then jellied with carbon disulfide…with a lot of chemical bath run off that may or may not be dealt with in a way that is responsible.
Eco-friendly manufacturers of bamboo fabrics (like we use) have begun experimenting with far more planet friendly processes that take a page from Lyocell and use chemicals like alcohol that are non-toxic to humans. With eco friendly fabric manufacturers the chemical manufacturing processes are also closed-loop so 99.5% of the chemicals used during the processing are captured and recycled to be used again. Only trace amounts escape into the atmosphere or into waste waters and waste products.
There are also new nano technologies out there that honestly do some crazy nano-technology magic we don’t understand that somehow embeds the bamboo onto other fabrics without all the chemicals. Go science!!
So…Bamboo the fabric is mostly better than other traditional fabrics? But not nearly as good as hemp and organic cotton. But better than polyester and microfibre fabrics.
So why do we use it?
What amazing properties does bamboo have that make it worth it’s slightly substandard sustainability rank?
We are glad you asked! Here is where the natural side of bamboo really shines.
- Bamboo clothing is 100% biodegradable. Yes they used chemicals to make it, but the end result is all natural – straight into your compost – goodness. Chemical process / natural product
- It feels and looks fantastic. The real beauty of bamboo lies in it’s softness, drape, and colour lasting qualities. Bamboo doesn’t fade like other natural fabrics, and the colours are bright and deep.
- It resists wrinkles. Many fabrics on the market are treated with anti-wrinkling chemicals (yes, really!), and they don’t even have to list it on the label. That’s one reason why the traditional hippies in their natural hemp and organic cotton clothing always looked so wrinkled…(we actually spent years working on hemp jersey that didn’t wrinkle and could hang properly, so that we could get the slick urban look we love while still being kind to the environment). Bamboo is naturally wrinkle resistant, just hang it up for a few hours, and the wrinkles should drop right out.
- Like hemp it’s naturally anti microbial. What does that mean? In a nutshell it means you can wear it longer before it smells (another great travel property). It also means that it resists mold and mildew naturally, so if you forget you wore it to the beach…last summer…it will be less inclined to be growing creatures when you finally remember. It also means it’s easier to keep clean and needs less detergent and chemicals to get clean.
- Thermally regulating. Like cashmere, bamboo will keep you cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter, making it the perfect under layer in the winter, and year round wear.
- It’s naturally wicking and breathable: meaning it absorbs the sweat away from your body, and allows air flow to warm or cool you.
- It’s got bamboo magic called “kun” that makes it resist odors. No seriously. Bamboo Kun, google it.
- Currently, there are no GMO variants of bamboo (unlike Soy). Let’s hope it stays that way.
- Bamboo clothing is hypoallergenic, so as long as you look for good quality bamboo that hasn’t been dosed in any chemicals, you skin should be happy!