We sell bamboo fabrics in the Offset Warehouse Eco Fabric Shop, but how on earth do we turn hard bamboo into soft and luscious fabric?
Properties of Bamboo Fabric
Bamboo is exceptionally soft and light, almost silky in feel. It is breathable and cool to wear. It is also incredibly hydroscopic; absorbing more water than other conventional fibres such as cotton and polyester.
Bamboo fabric is more antistatic than other types of fabric and also tends to perform better when it comes to odours – it has a natural deodourising property. Bamboo fibre has a thinness degree and whiteness degree close to normal finely bleached viscose and has a strong durability, stability and tenacity. Bamboo fabric is light and strong, and has excellent wicking properties.
It is fantastic for dyeing and takes pigments very well. According to the Indian Journal of Textile Association, it has three times more effective antibacterial properties and 12 times more antistaticproperties than cotton. It is also 60% more hygroscopic than cotton and is 30% more effective in “Deodorizing“.
According to an article published by the Department of Textile Tecnnology, scientists have found that bamboo contains a unique anti-bacterial and bacteriostasis bio- agent named “bamboo kun”. This substance is maintained in the finished bamboo fabric as it is bound tightly to the bamboo cellulose molecular structure. The Japan Textile Inspection Association found that even after bamboo fabric had been washed fifty times, it still possessed excellent anti-bacterial and bacteriostasis functions: over 70% of bacteria incubated on the bamboo fibre fabric did not survive. Bamboo’s natural anti-bacterial properties differ greatly from chemically induced antimicrobial properties, which can cause skin allergies in clothing.
Bamboo fabric has an unusual level of breathability, making it incredibly cool and comfortable to wear. This is because the cro
ss-section of the bamboo fibre is filled with micro-gaps and micro-holes; it has much better moisture absorption andventilation. With this unique microstructure, bamboo fibre apparel can absorb and evaporate human sweat very quickly. It can take up three times its weight in water!
Why Should We Use Bamboo As A Raw Material For Textiles and Clothing: How Is It Ethical?
Bamboo has many advantages over other fibres as a raw material for textiles, particularly cotton. According to Kew Gardens research, bamboo reaches up to 35 metres (115 ft) tall and is the largest member of the grass family. It is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. One Japanese species has been recorded to grow over one metre (3.3 ft) a day! The BBC estimates that approximately 40 million hectares of the earth is covered with bamboo, mostly in Asia. The species are so varied, that over 1600 are thought to exist in different climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. The speed that it grows and because it can grow in such diverse climates is what makes the bamboo plant a sustainable and versatile resource.
The bamboo species used for clothing is called Moso bamboo, or Phyllostachys edulis. Moso bamboo is the most important bamboo in China, where it covers about 3 million hectares (about 2% of the total Chinese forest area). It is the main species for bamboo timber and plays an important role for the ecological environment. As well as having edible shoots, it is said to have a breaking tenacity more than three times that of cotton, wool, rayon or polyester – so it’s super durable!
Harvesting and Land Use
Bamboo can be used as food, fibre and shelter. It is cheap, easy to grow and it grows quickly. It is a sustainable and efficient crop. Once a new shoot emerges from the ground, the new cane will reach its full height in just 8–10 weeks. Each cane reaches maturity in 3–5 years. Bamboo can be continually re-harvested with no damage to the surrounding environment. Unlike many natural fibres, because it is a grass, it regenerates after being cut without the need for replanting – just like a lawn! Studies have shown that this regular harvesting might actually benefit the environment, as felling leads to vigorous re-growth and an increase in the amount of biomass the next year. According to the Biomass Energy Centre, the carbon used to construct biomass is absorbed from the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) by plant life, using energy from the sun – i.e, bamboo actually absorbs CO2!
Bamboo grows very densely – a lot can be grown in a comparatively small area, easing pressure on land use. In a time when land use is under enormous pressure, bamboo’s high yield per hectare becomes very significant. To compare: bamboo can yeild up to 60 tonnes per hectare vs. 20 tonnes for most trees and only 1-2 tonnes for cotton. Furthermore, bamboo is a “one-time planting” crop and requires little care or maintenance.
Greenhouse gases and global warming
Because of deforestation, there are fewer trees to soak up rising levels of CO2 (causing global warming). As mentioned earlier, bamboo minimises CO2, but not only this, according to Bamboo Central it actually generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees! Again, to compare: one hectare of bamboo removes 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year while one hectare of young forest only removes 15.
Bamboo planting can slow deforestation, providing an alternative source of timber for the construction industry and cellulose fibre for the textile industry. It allows communities to turn away from the destruction of their native forests and to construct commercial bamboo plantations that can be selectively harvested annually without the destruction of the grove. Tree plantations have to be chopped down and terminated at harvest but bamboo keeps on growing. When a bamboo cane is cut down, it will produce another shoot and is ready for harvest again in as little as one year. Compare this to cotton – harvesting organic cotton requires the destruction of the entire crop causing bare soils to bake in the sun and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Before replanting next years crop the cotton farmers till the fields which releases yet more CO2.
The World Agroforesty Centre states that very little bamboo is irrigated (watered) and further that the water-use efficiency of bamboo is twice that of trees. Consequently, bamboo is more tolerant of harsh weather conditions such as drought, flood and high temperatures. Cotton (commonly thought to be our thirstiest crops), can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of cotton and 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land!
Yearly replanting of crops, such as cotton, and the constant use of pesticides, leads to soil erosion and a severe reduction in soil quality (aka soil degradation). Bamboo has incredibly large roots (which is why you have to be careful not to plant it next to your neighbour’s garage!). And because it is not uprooted during harvesting means bamboo actually helps preserve soil, prevent soil erosion and greatly reduces rain run-off.
Because bamboo is derived entirely from plant cellulose, it is biodegradable in soil by micro organisms and sunlight. Products made from bamboo can be composted and disposed of in an organic and environmentally friendly manner (although watch out for those buckles and zips!). Synthetic fibres such as nylon and polyester are not biodegradable and remain in landfill for longer, contributing to CO2 emissions for a longer time.
Pesticides and fertilizers
A huge benefit of using bamboo is that there is no need for pesticides or fertilisers when growing it. It also contains a natural substance called “bamboo-kun” – an antimicrobial agent that gives the plant a natural resistance to pest and fungi infestation (though some pathogen problems do still exist in some bamboo plantations). By contrast, the WWF website states that only 2.4% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton, yet cotton accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of the sale of global pesticides. Many of these pesticides are hazardous and toxic: The Environmental Justice Foundation states that an estimated 1 million to 5 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year, resulting in 20000 reported deaths among agricultural workers and at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation.
It’s worth noting, however, according to FashionAndEarth.com herbicide and fertilizer applications are common in some places to encourage edible shoot growth.
Even though bamboo fabrics are often advertised as antibacterial, in reality finished bamboo fabric does not retain all of the bamboo’s original antibacterial property; research is being conducted whereby antibacterial agents are being added to bamboo fabric to enhance its antibacterial properties.
Faux Bamboo Claims
Watch out for companies using rayon, rather than the viscose bamboo – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charging companies with fake antimicrobial claims when the fibre has been made with rayon.
How Do You Make Bamboo?
From the thousands of species of bamboo that exist globally, Moso Bamboo is used to make bamboo into fabric. This species of bamboo has soft stems and is fast growing: at its optimum growing condition its growth rate has been recorded at one metre per day.
Process 1: The bamboo stalk are cleaned, crushed and soaked in water with softening agent, to loosen the stalk. The softening process takes from two days to a week, depending on the quality of yarn to be made.
Process 2: After soaking, the stems are much softer. This softened material is removed from the water and squeezed out.
Process 3: It is washed in plain water to remove impurities and often bleached to get uniform shade and shed dried.
Process 4: The dried material is combed to get the fiber, bamboo fiber.
Process 5: ￼￼The fibre is then ring spun to make bamboo yarn of different counts (thickness of yarn), that is then made into different products.
How Do You Know Your Bamboo Is Organic?
Most of the bamboo we use in our fabric is grown in China by Hebei Jigao Chemical fibre Company. They hold the patent on the process for turning bamboo into fibre, also known as bamboo viscose. Our bamboo is grown in accordance with the International organic standard of OCIA and IFOAM, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and the USDA National Organic Program, so as to ensure each bamboo stalk is of 100% natural growth and without any chemical pesticides. This is certified by the European organic certification body ECOCERT.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was established in 1972 as an umbrella organization for national organic agriculture associations. Members also include certification bodies, traders and processors, research and training institutions, consultancy agencies and others working in the organic sector. IFOAM’s work is based on its four principles of organic agriculture, i.e.
- To progress towards an entire organic production chain, which is both socially just and ecologically responsible
- To produce food of high nutritional quality in sufficient quantity
- To encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system, involving micro organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals
- To maintain and increase long-term fertility of soils
- To promote the healthy use and proper care of water, water resources and all life therein
- To help in the conservation of soil and water
- To use, as far as possible, renewable resources in locally organised agricultural systems
- To work, as far as possible, within a closed system with regard to organic matter and nutrient elements
- To work, as far as possible, with materials and substances that can be reused or recycled, either on the farm or elsewhere
- To give all livestock conditions of life which allow them to perform basic aspects of their innate behaviour
- To minimise all forms of pollution that may result from agricultural practice
- To maintain the genetic diversity of the agricultural system and its surroundings, including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats
- To allow everyone involved in organic production and processing a quality of life conforming to the UN Human Rights Charter, to cover their basic needs and obtain an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment
- To consider the wider social and ecological impact of the farming system.
- To produce non-food products out of renewable resources, which are fully biodegradable
- To encourage organic farming associations to function along democratic lines and the principle of division of powers
The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) is a member-owned, non-profit organization, which provides research, education and certification services to organic growers, processors and handlers around the world. OCIA certifies and verifies farm, livestock, processor/handlers, broker-traders, Community Grower Groups (CGGs), and Private Labels to various programs. Its criteria include the following:
- No chemicals or non-natural fertilizers have been applied to fields, pastures, orchards, or vineyards for three years prior to harvest.
- Operations have been annually inspected by an independent inspector and are subject to unannounced verification inspections at any time.
- Detailed records of each operation’s practices and processes have been kept and submitted to OCIA International for an annual certification review.
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certifies that the finished fibre has been tested for any chemicals that may be harmful to a person’s health and has been found to contain no trace chemicals that pose any health threat whatsoever. The fibre does not contain allergenic or carcinogenic dyes (including AZO), does not contain pesticides and chlorinated phenoles, has been tested for the release of heavy metals under artificial perspiration conditions, is free from formaldehyde or containing trace amounts significantly lower than the required legal limits, with a skin friendly pH Free from chloro-organic carriers and is free from biologically active finishes. The standard sets stricter limits than current EC legislation on banned or restricted use substances used in textile manufacture. The scheme also includes substances considered to be harmful but not yet banned by legislations, such as certain pesticides. ￼ Examples of harmful human substances screened include:
- Banned Carcinogenic Dyes
- Allergenic Dyes
- Extractable Heavy Metals
- Flame Retardants
- Chlorinated Aromatic
- Compounds (pollute the environment and harmful to health)
- Loose Dye / Colour
- Volatile Organics Phthalates (plasticizers)
- Organo-tin Compounds (with at least one bond between the atoms of tin and carbon)
The USDA Organic seal assures consumers of the quality and integrity of organic products. Organic-certified operations must have an organic system plan and records that verify compliance with that plan. Operators are inspected annually and in addition there are random checks to assure standards are being met. Products that follow the USDA National Organic Program have strict production (and labeling) requirements. Products must meet the following requirements:
- Produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
- Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
- Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
TEXTILES. If the finished product is certified organic and produced in full compliance with the USDA organic regulations, the entire product may be labeled organic and display the USDA organic seal. If all instances of specific fibers in the finished product are certified organic, the label may claim the specific fibers are organic and identify the percentage of organic fibers.* Textiles that meet the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) may be sold as organic in the U.S.* *Unless the finished product is certified to the USDA organic regulations, product labels may not state or imply that the finished product is USDA organic or use the USDA organic seal.