Wednesday, March 10, 2010
What the Deal with Bamboo Clothing? Is it good is it evil?
So... Bamboo Fabric Clothing has been getting some press lately with the recent US and Canadian changes to labeling requirements. You used to label bamboo clothing just Bamboo. Now clothing producers have to label the products Viscose from Bamboo or Rayon from Bamboo. As a clothing designer that uses Bamboo derived fabrics I am all for this. Transparency in product labeling is very important. A lot of consumers are confused about Greener products and want to know more, but some just want to buy a Bamboo T because it feels good to wear and last well. I have been researching quite a bit on this topic and wanted to chime in my two cents on why I will still use a bit of Bamboo Fabric in our Eco friendly line Salts Clothing.
When I started to make clothing out of alternative fabrics in 2005 the selection was slim for quality colorful fabrics, in recent years the fabrics available have been getting better and better. The first soy shirts I made shrunk up funny and basically fell apart (don't worry I kept them for myself and ended up eventually using them as rags, I don't sell shirts that do that of course). Now Soy fabric clothing has come along way and wears and washing great. Better than cotton in some cases. The same is true for bamboo made into viscose and rayon. Processing Bamboo into rayon and viscose is a chemical intensive process that is essentially the same as making regular rayon. So the debate is out whether its a good alternative fiber. Many rayon's are made from beech and oak trees creating a similar fabric to bamboo often called Tencel or are simply labeled Rayon. To learn more about bamboo fabric production and the debate around it please check out this article by the CBC.
The rayon bamboo fabric that I use in Salts is mixed with a large amount of certified organic cotton and a touch of spandex. The organic cotton is great for sustainability and still allows the fabric to have the same touch and silky feel as rayon from bamboo straight up. The spandex (usually around 5-7% of the fiber makeup) helps the garment to move with the body and hold its shape. It offers some support as well in certain garments. I love the feel and wear ability of bamboo and on a personal level I think it still a great fabric even if some chemicals (like lye, used in soap making) are used in its production. Its is a trade off that's for sure, but when mixed with a large amount of organic cotton and made in a properly certified (look for Eco Tex or Skal certifications) facility where the water is treated to remove chemicals and kept in a closed circuit system (not pumped out into the water table) it can be an great substitution for athletic wear fabrics like Polyester.
At Salts Clothing we also used hemp, soy, organic wool and linen in our clothing. Each has its own special use. Wool and Merino is great for wet west coast winters. Hemp is very sustainable and Eco friendly and is warmer to wear in the winter then organic cotton and Rayon from Bamboo. Soy fabric is made from by product which makes it very green. Organic cotton is Eco friendly and breathes well, good for mixing with the other fibers and wearing in summer or winter. Organic Cotton, Hemp, linen, and wool are termed "natural fibers" because they are manually not chemically processed into the thread used to make the fabric. Keep in mind though that regular cotton, is also termed "natural" but is one of the biggest polluters in the world.
From personal wearing I have found clothing made from Bamboo to be terrific for humid summer weather and for traveling. I can't scientifically say it wicks but I know that when I put it on over my wet swimsuit as a cover up it doesn't show the moisture through and drys much faster than hemp or cotton. I am certain now that the fabric industry is aware it needs the scientific data to prove the wicking properties, the data will be emerging very soon. I have already heard from some suppliers that they are testing right now to back up their wicking claims. I also know that Rayon from Bamboo feels lighter and cleaner to wear in hot weather. You can test it for yourself by wearing different shirts on a hot day. The temperature difference can actually be felt. Wearing Rayon from Bamboo when traveling in tropical countries has also been great. It doesn't pick up smells and doesn't hold wrinkles. This is my experience with Bamboo fabrics as a user.
For winter and fall collections I use more hemp, Organic Wool and Soy because it works better in those seasons. For summer I will continue to use a bit of bamboo derived fabrics because they work great in hotter weather and for fitness wear. I much rather the feel of rayon from bamboo on my skin than polyester (made from petroleum). Rayon from Bamboo is not a perfectly sustainable fabric but it has its place in Eco Fashion when mixed with a high content of organic cotton and made responsibly in my opinion. I am going to continue to research the future of this fabric though. Stay tuned! If you have more info please comment, I would love to learn more.
Salts Clothing Designer
PS, I have found some new great fabrics that have a higher content of Organic Cotton then Rayon from Bamboo but still keep that "bamboo fabric" feel....stay tuned to check them out in future collections. More organic cotton means more sustainable but with the lovely "bamboo" texture
PPS the photos above are from the Salts Spring 2010 collection. The Black tops are hemp organic cotton, the red skirt (laughter skirt) is Rayon from Bamboo and Organic cotton and the brown skirt (lana skirt) is soy organic cotton.