October 03 2021 – Diana Aldescu
Welcome back, everyone to the Fabric of the Week blog! We hope you are enjoying our articles because it is about to get more interesting. Let’s dive in.
This week we are talking about bamboo fabric. To be honest, this is a new fabric for us, too. But you know us, we dug out plenty of information, keeping it 100% real. In this article, we will be discussing the pros and cons of bamboo and how sustainable it is. Let’s find out!
Origins of bamboo
With no doubt bamboo has increased in popularity, but did you know its main origin is Asia? Bamboo has been out there for thousands of years, however, back then it was used quite differently. Bamboo was mainly used for creating paper as it was a very flexible material. Next to this, it was also used for more hardcore objects such as weapons and needles. From paper to weapons, pretty impressive. Bamboo only became popular in mainstream clothing production in the early 2000s. Beijing University gets most of the credits for this creation. As of now, the market for bamboo fabric has increased by as much as 5,000% since its first appearance in the early 2000s.
How is the bamboo fabric made?
There actually are a few ways to turn bamboo into fabric. The most sustainable way is by creating “bamboo linen”. To make bamboo linen you need to, of course, plant and harvest bamboo. Then you need to cut the bamboo into tiny strips and put these through a filter to create long fibres. This process involves combing out the bamboo fibres and spinning them into thread. No harmful chemicals are used in this process, so it’s all great. But, this process is very labour intensive and expensive.
On the other side, the most popular method of producing bamboo fabric is by creating “bamboo rayon”. What this means is that this process contains an intensive chemical process. It involves taking a natural fabric and combining it with chemicals. This becomes a semi-synthetic fabric. The process for making bamboo rayon is as follows:
-It begins with the harvest of mature bamboo, roughly 2 years old.
-The bamboo is taken and chopped into pieces resulting in piles of raw bamboo chips.
-The chips are then soaked in a caustic soda solution which breaks down the bamboo fibres. This extraction results in thin sheets of bamboo pulp that are left to dry thoroughly.
-They then get spun into soft, fluffy material.
-The final fibre gets separated and spun into thread which is used to create yarn for weaving.
Benefits of the bamboo fabric
Bamboo has some cool qualities and we found some we want to share with you.
Antibacterial: This fabric adds a durable defence against unwanted smells. It keeps you odour free and leaves you feeling refreshed.
Highly absorbent: It is super absorbent, and will keep you 100% dry. No sweat here.
Powerfully insulating: What a great balance! Due to its cool properties, bamboo will keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.
Soft: Some say bamboo might be the softest fabric on the planet. You’ll most likely love this one.
Naturally UV protectant: Bamboo naturally repels sunlight. So, it is good for your skin!
Hypoallergenic: Certain fabrics might cause a certain allergic reaction. But, bamboo is known to be very friendly, no allergic reactions here.
Eco-friendly: Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing woody plants ever. As well, its production can be done in a very sustainable way. So, bamboo is seen as one of the most eco-friendly fabrics out there.
And now, some cons
Drying: The bamboo fabric cannot be machine-dried. It is recommended to let the fabric dry naturally, otherwise, it can get damaged. So if you’re in a rush, you might have to plan this one out.
Shrinkage: Bamboo fabric tends to shrink faster than other fabrics such as cotton, which is what makes organic cotton clothes such an attractive choice for many people.
Hazardous chemicals and emissions: The usage of chemicals can be a real worry. Some chemicals used in bamboo production can be very harmful. These can harm both human health and the environment if adequate protection is not implemented.
Expensive: The bamboo linen fabric tends to be quite expensive. Although this process is much more sustainable, it is also very labour intensive, requiring more money.
Wrinkles: This fabric wrinkles easily compared to materials such as cotton.
Now comes the real questions…
Why is bamboo sustainable?
Bamboo itself has a lot of potential. If grown under the right conditions, it can be an eco-friendly fabric, too. It does not need extra care and attention to farm. It can survive very well with no pesticides or herbicides and needs very little water to grow.
Bamboo produces 35% more oxygen than other equal tree masses. Also, it can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Its growing process is also very quick. After harvesting, bamboo regrows through its own root system, so it doesn't have to be planted again. This is quite amazing and healthy for the soil.
Bamboo products are a fantastic alternative to non-eco-friendly materials such as plastic. Nowadays you can find bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo coffee cups and bamboo straws. Far better options for some of our everyday products.
Why is bamboo not sustainable?
Well, the most obvious one is chemical usage. Bamboo fabric production uses carbon disulphide which is toxic. This can be very poisonous for the environment and the health of the workers. It harms the environment by creating air pollution, too. As for the workers, the effects of using carbon disulphide are huge. It can cause liver damage, blindness and psychosis. However, if the right regulations are in place, these effects can be controlled.
Another problematic factor of producing the bamboo fabric is where it is made. Most bamboo comes and is produced in Asia, especially in China. Many Chinese factories have encountered controversy due to their weak safety regulations. It was found that they expose their workers to huge amounts of gaseous carbon disulphide. Even the legal amount of this substance is far above what scientists recommend.
Now, when we talk about harvesting bamboo, there is a slight issue here, too. As mentioned above, bamboo does not need much care, but it is in high demand. This means that many farms still choose to use pesticides. This is done to speed up harvesting and produce as much bamboo as possible.
How are these issues addressed?
On the bright side, there has been a huge improvement in the bamboo production process. As a start, there have been changes in how chemicals are handled. From using less to using better chemicals that are less harmful, especially when compared to other conventional fabrics such as polyester. Polyester uses a far more chemically intensive process. When compared to cotton, bamboo fabric is also much cheaper to make and environmentally better.
But now, don’t think that it’s all bad. There is organic bamboo certified by USDA (The United States Department of Agriculture). These are farms that grow and sustain the bamboo in an eco-friendly way. They avoid any usage of pesticides. On the bright side, there are options out there.
So, should you buy bamboo?
Bamboo is a cool, still new and improving material, so yes! It comes as a great alternative to many everyday products. As well, its textile production seems to be getting better and better. It has many impressive properties so it’ll be a shame to miss out on it. When compared to other rayon fabrics, it is performing way better, so we’d like to recommend it to you but where possible, check out whether you are buying organic bamboo or regular bamboo.
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