Until the 1990s bamboo was only used in clothing in its raw form, to provide structure to rigid items of clothing like corsets, hats and shoes. Recent developments now mean we have the choice of two forms of bamboo fabric: viscose and linen. Both have relatively strong eco-credentials:
Fast growing, high yield
Moso bamboo is the type used to make the fabric we use in our clothes. It not only grows tall, but under the right conditions it only takes only 10 weeks to reach maturity. It prospers in a wide variety of regions around the world and grows well on marginal land. Its growth is also dense, producing up to 60 tonnes per hectare without fertilisers. By comparison, cotton averages 2 tonnes per hectare.
As a result of that dense growth, bamboo generates up to a third more oxygen and sequesters four times as much CO2 as an equivalent area of young trees.
Bamboo typically doesn't require extra water and rarely needs irrigation. Cotton is a famously thirsty crop. The land it grows on has to be irrigated, sometimes with disastrous results, and it can take thousands of litres of water to produce one kilogram.
Bamboo is not pulled out of the ground like many other crops. When the bamboo cane is cut the root system stays in the earth and lives to fight another day. This also helps to anchor the soil which prevents erosion and reduces rain run-off. In addition, bamboo possesses natural anti-bacterial qualities, which means pesticides are not required.
We could go on and on....
.... as the list of benefits is long: it's biodegradable; better for farm workers because it doesn't use harmful chemicals, fertilisers and salts; the fabric is anti-static; it absorbs moisture away from your body; provides UV protection etc.
Beware of imitations
All of our bamboo fabric is viscose or viscose cotton blend and is OEKO-TEX certified so you know it's the best. Watch out for this certification or ones carrying the Soil Association logo. Bamboo rayon is often marketed as having the properties of bamboo viscose and linen but it doesn't; it actually contains little or no plant matter.
The manufacturing process of the good bamboo still involves multiple bleaching which generates sodium hydroxide - better known as caustic soda. It is recycled in a closed loop production process and the waste water treated before being released. Although this means the impact on the environment is minimal, in an ideal world we wouldn't use caustic soda in fabric production. Research is underway to look for a greener alternative.
Finally, all bamboo is grown and processed in China, which means the rolls of fabric we order rack up many miles and kilometres before they reach us in the UK and France. Research has been undertaken into the possibility of growing bamboo agriculturally in the EU but its focus was as a renewable energy crop rather than textile production. It looks like China will be the market leaders in bamboo production for some time.
As we have discovered over the last few years no fabric is greener than green. However, bamboo's list of positives places it near the top of the eco fabric ladder.
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Outsider Fabric Focus: Bamboo
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It's time to join the Fashion Revolution!