Bamboo has been used as wood for housing, a Chinese side dish, a traditional Indian pen and used for making paper and musical instruments. After centuries of good use, we re-discovered the power and value of this special tall grass and how to use it to replace less sustainable materials, especially in the fashion industry. But be careful, some of the working processes are just as harmful as the ones we are trying to avoid to protect the environment.
Bamboo is an evergreen grass. It grows very quickly: it can be harvested just 3 months after being planted; the maintenance is also low, as it grows naturally without any need of chemical fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. However, it doesn’t require replanting as new sprouts grow spontaneously from the wide root network. Just like your dream eco friendly plant!
We have to consider more when talking about the sustainability of bamboo. If grown correctly it can have a positive impact on the ground, helping to rebuild eroded soil. And let’s not forget that it can absorb between 100 and 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare!
The quality and the convenience of this plant made it easy for it to get exploited in the wrong way. Just like any kind of culture, it needs to respect natural cycles and laws and not be grown as a mono-crop. This information is not always easy to find when we see bamboo products on the market. If we look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, we can’t be wrong (it certifies against habitat destruction, water pollution and harm to the wildlife).
There are different ways to produce fabric out of bamboo, some of them are revolutionary and can have a positive impact on the fashion industry.
The most common and popular fiber is what is called bamboo rayon. The process of making this kind of fabric is similar to the one of viscose, so the result is a mix of natural and synthetic. Bamboo is dissolved in a chemical solution to produce a pulpy matter. Then it gets spun into fibers that later become threads and fabric. The chemicals used for this process are often dangerous and toxic and the waste is not easily recycled but there are factories which work on this in a sustainable way, making completely organic lyocell.
Fine Charcoal Bamboo
A better alternative to rayon is fine charcoal bamboo, where the fiber is created starting from bamboo burned in ovens over 300° celsius (around 1500° Fahrenheit). The benefits of this process includes keeping the original properties of the plant and the adding of absorbency, breathability, hypoallergenicity, and anti-bacterial qualities. This is how our handmade Kalilo scarves or socks and underwear from Thought are made.
The making of bamboo linen requires combing out the bamboo fibres and spinning them into thread. This is the same manufacturing process used to produce linen fabric from flax or hemp, completely mechanical and with no use of chemicals. The final result is a slightly coarse fabric which is very durable and strong. The process itself is very eco-friendly, but it requires more human labour. The human rights of the factory workers are just as important as the ecological footprint of the production.
When we buy something made out of bamboo, it is vital to go deeper into the production details. The raw material is a very good alternative, but it’s often advertised incorrectly to follow trends and get to well-meaning but superficial buyers.
Making a conscious and eco-friendly choice is always harder than buying whatever we like, but it’s this kind of care and awareness that will bring a real change to the eco fashion world.
By Elisa Botticella