What’s New with Bamboo

By Jonathan Siskin / September 7, 2011


When it comes to ranking the “best of the best” eco-textiles, a growing number of U.S. designers are utilizing bamboo in the production of quality clothing and apparel. Farmed in many areas of the world from Central America to Asia, bamboo ranks high on the A-list of the best of the best “eco-friendly” textiles and is one of Mother Nature’s most sustainable creations. The two methods by which bamboo is transformed into fabric were developed in China which today is the primary grower of a plant that is the largest grass of the Graminae (grass family) that may grow as high as 100 feet.

The first method is a mechanical process similar to that used in the processing of flax and hemp. The process begins by crushing the stalks followed by which natural enzymes break them down further, eventually allowing the fibers to be combed out. The other method is similar to the process by which rayon is produced where fibers are broken down with the addition of chemicals (including lye, carbon disulfide and strong acids) and then extruded through spinnerets. Bonnie Siefers, owner/designer of Jonano, A Division of Sami Designs LLC, is a leading advocate of the use of bamboo in the creation of sustainable fashions. “Along with organically grown crops such as hemp and cotton, bamboo is one of several sustainables that are vital to the production of my line of spa and resort apparel.” Among the key factors of bamboo’s popularity in clothing creation is that it can be comfortably worn and enjoyed for many years with minimal wear and tear. “Bamboo’s value is reflected in our company’s sustainability mission statement: “From seed to sewn,” Siefers notes. She goes on to say that “Jonano’s goal is to continue to develop great eco-textiles that positively impact not only the environment but also the fortunes of bamboo farmers and growers. Most importantly, however, are the benefits bamboo has on the lives of people who select organic fashion for their wardrobes.”

Nowadays a growing number of U.S. retailers are selling bamboo fabric to cash in on its “eco-friendly” cliché. However bamboo is not yet “out of the woods” yet in regard to universal approval. Case in point is the action taken last year by the Federal Trade Commission. As of mid-2009, the FTC has been cracking down on the practice of labeling bamboo rayon as a natural bamboo product. FTC guidelines now mandate that all these products must be labeled as rayon with the optional qualifier “from bamboo.” As far as Jonano’s compliance with these regulations, in 2008 the company switched its labeling of the organic bamboo content of its clothing from “organic bamboo” to “viscose from organic bamboo.” In 2009 Sami Designs received a mailing from the FTC asking that a settlement agreement be reached that Sami would conform with FTC regulations. According to Siefers “our company signed on immediately and carefully analyzed all our marketing materials and made whatever changes were necessary to ensure that we were in compliance with all the new labeling and marketing standards.” One final note on bamboo’s international appeal as a sustainable: One of the countries leading the way in bamboo farming is Costa Rica where the environmental awareness of the Costa Rican populace has spawned a host of innovative sustainable concepts that have gained worldwide recognition. As a prime example, organically grown bamboo is now being used to produce sustainable straws that has resulted in the elimination of plastic straws from Costa Rican restaurants.

Jonathan Siskin
Jonathan Siskin

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