There has been extraordinary growth in the bamboo textile market over the past ten years in response to increased customer demand for eco-friendly clothing. These silky smooth fabrics are sometimes accompanied by grandiose environmental claims which sound too good to be true. Here, Leo Workwear take a look at what bamboo fabric is, how it’s made, and give our thoughts on the environmental sustainability of bamboo.
Bamboo is an environmentally sustainable crop:
Bamboo is extremely efficient. It is one of the most rapid growing plants on earth: it can grow 4-5 cm/h. And it can be grown without the use of irrigation, pesticides, and herbicides.
“Bamboo plant can be harvested sustainably in 3–5 year cycles unlike a tree forest that takes over 60 years to recover from deforestation. It is one of the fastest growing plant species and can grow and adapt to a wide variety of climatic conditions. As the bamboo root systems stay intact after harvesting, it improves soil quality and helps to rebuild eroded soil”.
Types of Bamboo Fabrics
There are two main ways bamboo fabrics are produced: mechanical production and chemical production. Mechanical production is used to manufacture natural bamboo fibre. Chemical production is used to create bamboo viscose.
Natural bamboo fibres are great environmentally, but not commercially viable for most clothing since they are rough and crease easily. They are also labour-intensive and much more expensive than conventional textiles.
As such, the vast majority of bamboo products on the market are made from bamboo viscose, also called bamboo rayon.
“Most bamboo fibres and fabrics in the market are produced by a viscose process which uses chemical solvents that raise environmental concerns besides being quite different from the original bamboo fibres. While bamboo rayon is a good choice relative to other man-made fibre options, a naturally processed bamboo fibre would be far superior and preferable”.
Creating Bamboo Fabrics
Bamboo viscose production involves dissolving the bamboo plant in a chemical solvent to produce a pulpy viscous substance. The cellulose fibres are then reconstructed and extruded through mechanical spinnerets to produce a usable fabric. This chemical-intensive process of creating fabric removes many of bamboo’s natural properties.
“This process produces regenerated bamboo fibre which is essentially a rayon fibre which is silky, strong and elegant but just like any other rayon, involves toxic chemicals and harmful by-products. Unless methods are used to capture and recycle the caustic chemicals, harmful by-products can be released into air and water”.
Manufacturing bamboo viscose requires hazardous chemicals which, if not handled correctly or disposed of properly, could cause environmental pollution and health hazards. Yet, this is also true of all commonly-used commercial fibres, hence the importance of working with reliable suppliers with tried and tested environmental management systems in place. If the chemical solvents used to produce bamboo are handled correctly, bamboo might be an eco-friendly material relative to the other economically feasible alternatives.
Leo Workwear’s Perspective
In 2019 Leo Workwear launched our EcoViz® range to pioneer an environmentally sustainable future for the high visibility industry. Most of the innovative eco-friendly products we’ve introduced use recycled polyester yarn to reduce their environmental footprint. However, we have designed T-Shirts and Polos made from bamboo viscose as well.
^EcoViz® PB range from Leo Workwear
As we researched the bamboo clothing market, we saw some companies’ marketing over-exaggerate the environmental benefits of their bamboo fabrics. For example, by talking about their products as if they are made from completely natural bamboo fibres rather than bamboo viscose.
Nonetheless, whilst bamboo viscose textiles are not perfect, they can be an improvement over the fabrics commonplace in the industry. Grown responsibly, bamboo requires less water, less fertilizer, and less pesticide than cotton, and a similar chemical treatment process to most commercial fibres, making it substantially more environmentally sound than the typical fabrics used for high visibility workwear.
Bamboo isn’t a magic bullet to the textile industry’s environmental problems, but we believe it is a sensible addition to include in our range as a bold and exciting alternative to the water-intensive, pesticide-heavy fabrics which currently dominate the market.
Sources Alvarez, J., Ławińska, K., & Falkiewicz-Dulik, M. (2020). Quality Assessment of Viscose Bamboo Fabrics Intended for Use Inside Children’s and Special Footwear. FIBRES & TEXTILES in Eastern Europe 2020; 28, 4(142), 82. Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. P. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles 3:2, 15. Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. P. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles 3:2, 19. Vasanthan, N., Kumar, D., & Kumar, R. (2021). Analyzation of Anti-Microbial Property of Bamboo Yarn and its Production Methods. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (IRJET) Volume 08 Issue 05, 1446. Vasanthan, N., Kumar, D., & Kumar, R. (2021). Analyzation of Anti-Microbial Property of Bamboo Yarn and its Production Methods. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (IRJET) Volume 08 Issue 05, 1447.