Whenever a “new” type of product becomes trendy, the world of social media and marketing goes abuzz with praise. 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 widely known) we’ve seen it all. People often throw around the words “green” and “organic” so much without backing it up, that there’s a term for it—greenwashing.
So when we first heard that bamboo fabric was making its way into the conversation regarding the best eco friendly textiles with its luxurious softness, we approached the subject with a healthy amount of skepticism.
We’ve heard a lot of great things about bamboo - but we wanted to do our homework first, and here’s the run-down of what we found.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. It is a self-regenerating and super renewable resource and doesn’t require 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. The harsh chemicals used to dissolve bamboo nullifies any natural antimicrobial properties.
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.” Sandra Marquardt from the Organic Trade Association states, "The biggest issue is that the FTC has ruled that bamboo cannot be differentiated from rayon. So unless someone can super prove their supply chain, [their bamboo] must be labeled as “rayon from bamboo.” Because bamboo does not have a highly developed supply chain, it is difficult to certify it to meet GOTS.
There are two main ways to transform the plant into liquid, and then into fibres 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. Consumers should also note that true bamboo fiber is not 'silky smooth' like bamboo based rayon.
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), and there’s no way to manage the negative effects of that process in a transparent way.
Dangerous chemicals are often 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 the planet from before the seed is even planted to the first time your baby wears it, and beyond.
That’s why all of our products are certified to the GOTS and we solely work with farmers that grow cotton that is not only certified organic, but biodynamic—that is, beyond organic and is grown in a holistic, self-sustaining environment that sustains and nourishes all living things that are a part of it.
Bamboo the plant itself is an incredible sustainable resource, bamboo the fabric - is harder to categorize, and the manufacturing process raises many potential health and environmental concerns. While there are natural bamboo fibers, it is much harder to find and standardize. At the end of the day, a lot more data is needed to really understand the full effects of manufacturing bamboo garments on our ecosystem and how it can be improved. As of today, 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.