Don’t Get Bamboo-zled
Whenever a “new” type of product becomes trendy, the world of social media and marketing goes abuzz with praise. “It’s a miracle!” people say. “I can’t believe we’ve never thought of it before. It’s literally the most perfect thing ever discovered!” We see it in the health and fitness industry all the time. Whether it’s quinoa, kale, or acai, we often see certain foods touted as cure-alls because of their health benefits. It happens in the fashion industry as well. Being one of the first companies here in the U.S. to sell organic baby clothing (before it became the fashion), we’ve seen it all. People throw around the words “green” and “organic” so much without backing it up and there’s a term for it—greenwashing.
So when we first heard that bamboo fabric was making its way into the conversation around the best eco friendly textiles, we of course approached the subject with a healthy amount of skepticism. We’ve heard a lot of great things about bamboo, but wanted to do our homework first before jumping to any conclusions—here’s the run-down of what we found.
One of the fastest growing plants on earth, bamboo is a self-regenerating and super renewable resource. It doesn’t need a lot of water to grow, or any pesticides or fertilizers.
In fact, it has been known to purify air (releasing about 35 percent more oxygen in the air than trees the same size), prevent soil erosion, and overall improve the quality of the environment.
Bamboo makes a really soft fabric—similar to silk or cashmere. It also has qualities that are anti-bacterial and naturally wicks moisture away from the skin when wearing it.
The fabric is also wrinkle-resistant and dries with little to no shrinkage.
The biggest issue with bamboo has to do with the production process, not with the plant itself.
According to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the leading authority on organic certification: “For almost all bamboo fibre used in industrial textile production not the natural bamboo is used but it is melted and regenerated in a viscose / rayon process and can therefore not be considered as natural or even organic fibre, even if the bamboo plant was originally certified organic on the field.”
There are two main ways to transform the plant into liquid, and from there into fibers to be spun into fabric: chemical and mechanical. Because the latter is pricier and more labor intensive, the chemical process is the one that’s most widely used.
While some third-party certifications exist to promote more eco-friendly bamboo textile manufacturing processes, there is no official worldwide organic certification standard for bamboo garments (currently China is pretty much the only place to grow and manufacture it on a large scale), there’s no way to manage the negative effects of that process in a transparent way.
Dangerous chemicals are used that can cause many health problems including neural disorders for the people working in the factory. These chemicals also find their way into the earth and drinking water.
One problem with the bamboo plant is that despite its awesome qualities, it is pretty invasive and can overtake and destroy ecosystems if planted in non-native areas.
At Under the Nile, the entire life cycle of the garment is important—we are concerned with what happens to people and planet from before the seed is planted to the first time baby wears it and beyond. That’s why all of our products are certified to GOTS and we solely work with farmers that grow cotton that is not only certified organic but biodynamic—that is, grown in a holistic and self-sustaining environment that sustains and nourishes all living things that are a part of it (stay tuned for more on biodynamic agriculture in another blog post!)
At the end of the day, more data is needed to really understand the full effects of manufacturing bamboo garments on our ecosystem and how it can be improved. For now though, it doesn’t look too good. We will be sticking to our proven 100% organic cotton. What do you think…is bamboo going to be making its way into your closet any time soon? Leave us a comment below!
Interested in more information? Below are a few links to some additional articles.