Is bamboo fabric considered a sustainable textile?

Heads up on the greenwashing in the fashion industry

What is a sustainable fibre? Is bamboo a sustainable textile? And do companies really label our clothes honestly? After recent events and alarm bells of the mess humans are causing to the planet it is not new that fast fashion is one of the biggest problems. However, so many companies and brands are taking on this climate alarm as a trend rather than making real change to their production line. What is this? Greenwashing! This is exactly what happens to bamboo in the fashion industry. OurgoodBlogger Chloe Pocah presents an accurate report for you that brings some light on why bamboo is actually not sustainable.

Bamboo it’s a highly sustainable plant, however… Is bamboo fabric considered a sustainable textile? Definitely not. During my Master’s degree and after watching The True Cost documentary and learning the textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, I wanted to go deeper in terms of what textiles were actually sustainable. I came across the greenwashing! I am sure you did too at some point… 

For those who haven’t heard of this term before: what is greenwashing? Greenwashing is when a company or brand present themselves as sustainable or ethical but maybe they are not or only a part of it is- therefore bending the truth. Companies may use natural fibres such as cotton or ‘green’ or eco in their branding. To start cotton is usually one of the least sustainable or ethical materials and just because someone says their green it does not mean they have a conscious production.

It is time for companies and brands to start being transparent about their production? Are they using the current changes in the world as a trend to make their customers feel good in hindsight not being initially honest? Yes… and as we are becoming smarter and well-informed, we can put pressure on those greenwashing brands.

Greenwashing case: brands using bamboo textile claiming to be sustainable

When I came across Positive Outlook and BAM Bamboo Clothing information on its website revealed (and still does) to be “a clothing brand that uses the bamboo fabric” within their garments. Their main ethos is morals they want to stand for are to be sustainable and ethical within their brand. They mention how they use bamboo based on its ‘minimal impact on the environment’ and the benefits of the fabric. These benefits are claimed as being soft, anti-bacterial, unlikely to cause allergic reactions and breathable. Further looking into Positive Outlook, would suggest they are quite genuine with wanting to be sustainable as other materials include organic cotton. They seem to be passionate about their goal by wanting to give a positive impact on the world when referring to their website. Copeland (2010), an environmental material developer and manager from Patagonia, suggests that the bamboo plant is fast-growing, as much that it is the fastest-growing plant in the world. The plant is suggested it needs no chemicals to grow, and the soil can improve soil rather than deplete unlike cotton and is not easily affected by bacteria (Gordon and Hill 2015).

Patagonia’s Todd Copeland, back in 2012, wrote an article on the matter of bamboo fabric regarding its benefits and not so beneficial process. Patagonia during the 1990s was one of the first apparel companies to start the lead in sustainability (Muthu,2015). The company aims to inspire others to work in a similar way and has become a pioneer within the environmental and social fronts since its beginning. The reason why I am bringing this up is that Patagonia has been researching the bamboo fabric for over 14 years and the brand will not use the fabric. The reasons behind this decision are because the most available is the viscose rayon method, which is the process the bamboo plant has to go through to become a fabric involving intensive use of chemicals; the process of rayon is polluting and takes up a lot of energy. Though as mentioned in the report there is a better closed-loop process of this called Lyocell. This is the better alternative and recycles the chemicals used to produce the fabric. However, whether it is Lyocell or Rayon companies need to be transparent in sharing this with its consumers rather than calling it a bamboo textile- as it is not technically correct.

Bamboo fabric should be labelled as rayon

Rayon is a regenerated fibre made from extracted wood pulp or plant-based material then processed through chemicals to produce fibres that can be spun into fabric, to the extent that we can no longer call it a “natural fibre”. As the bamboo cellulose goes through a chemicals process it makes it man-made Fasanella, and therefore, it should be called rayon or at the very last resort rayon made from bamboo. YES: brands that are using this process should be labelling their clothing as rayon or if closed loop the Lyocell and not bamboo fabric.Environmental Benchmark fibres textiles class sustainability

Now, looking at the classification of the Environmental Benchmark for Fibres on the table above, the Class A group is aimed at being the fabric with the least negative effect on the environment and Class E having the most negative effect on the environment. Bamboo viscose and rayon which are predominately the same thing suggested by the above research are both in ‘Class E’. Conclusion? Rayon or bamboo viscose is NOT environmentally friendly. I am sure you feel as sorry as I did when I found out!

However if they were to use the Lyocell (Tencel) process with the bamboo cellulose  this is an improvement in to CAT B. Though what is key here is for companies to be transparent about their textiles so consumers can understand and not be led to believe they are doing better when they are not or buying a textile that does not exist.

If you want to go more in-depth, here’s my full Research Report for you to download including all the relevant references and bibliographic notes. I thought you’d be interested in finding out about the raw truth about bamboo fabrics and get the brands to tell the true environmental cost of the process textiles to go through. While bamboo as a plant is one of the most sustainable materials in the world, bamboo fabric cannot be as it is not a textile fabric on its own. It is a man-made textile using the Rayon on the Lyocell process. Rayon is not a sustainable textile and Lyocell is a more sustainable process but still not the best. 

Please brands, stop the greenwashing and label your textiles correctly as we have become smarter and want to support companies that are good for the planet, good for the people. Be transparent with your consumers.

Research Report: Is Bamboo a Sustainable Fibre?

What is a ‘sustainable textile fabric’? 

Is the ‘bamboo’ textile sustainable? – the debate 

What ‘Bamboo’ textile should be really called and all textiles – transparency

What should companies be doing?

Recommended documenting films, books and articles

What is been your experience so far with brands claiming to be sustainable because of using bamboo textile? Please share your comments with us, we want to learn what is yet to be done to fight the greenwashing. We can do this together. We are doing this together!

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Chloe Ennis

Chloe is a super passionate about the welfare of the environment, animals and people. Last year completing a Master’s in Design dedicating it to sustainable and ethical research, and now she is the founder of her brand Tide Jewellery while she works at the Zero Waste Club in the UK as the Wholesale relations and Sales Executive. Chloe went from doing a Fashion degree and frowning at second hand clothes to avoiding fast fashion like the plague. She’s spend a generous amount of time researching about the industry, which has led her to become a vegan and to embrace zero waste as much as possible. Her biggest pet hate is green washing within the textiles and fashion industry, and that is the reason behind this textile report. Chloe is a full time Vegan and animal lover that sings and performs daily in the shower, enjoys yoga each day, attempts long boarding and belly dancing for fun in her spare time. Oh and also an OBSESSED with house plants. In her spare time, she travels and volunteers abroad to embrace new cultures.

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