pandas in a bamboo forest
pandas in a bamboo forest

The Truth About Bamboo

Many people ask us, how do you make bamboo into clothing? We think that's a great question, since to most people it's hard to imagine. We can all understand cotton since it comes from a fuzzy cotton ball, silk from a silk worm, wool from sheep. But fabric as soft as cashmere coming from bamboo? How does that happen?

As we have mentioned, our bamboo grows wild in northern Vietnam, and it is simply harvested responsibly. There is no damage to the environment during this process since bamboo is a grass and grows faster after it is cut! It is completely sustainable - and begins growing back immediately.

Where the ecology of bamboo fabrics has taken some heat is the processing from a plant into a fibre. Well, contrary to bad press bamboo has received because chemicals need to be used to process the plant, it turns out there's nothing wrong nor harmful about these chemicals if used responsibly. Though it may go against the politically correct thrust of our age, not all chemicals are bad.

Sibyl Buck, ggo's ash eco-thermal
Sibyl Buck, ggo's ash eco-thermal.
95% organic bamboo / 5% Lycra, photo: Carmen Hawk

Here's the technique: 1st the bamboo trunks are steamed and mechanically crushed. Then, according to Wikipedia: "The crushed bamboo is soaked in sodium hydroxide to produce cellulose. A common misconception is that sodium hydroxide is a harmful chemical. If used in a responsible manner sodium hydroxide has little known effect on the environment and health of workers. It is routinely used in the processing of organic cotton into fibre and is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and the Soil Association. Sodium hydroxide does not remain as a residue on clothing as it easily washes away and can be neutralized to harmless and non-toxic sodium sulfate, otherwise known as salt."

The resulting cellulose is then forced through a shower nozzle like thing called a spinneret, making liquid viscose fibres that harden into threads that are then rolled onto spools. In a nutshell, this is how we do it.

Here are some other great ecological reasons we are passionate about using bamboo for the fabrics we develop:

Moso bamboo plantation in northern Vietnam
Moso bamboo plantation in northern Vietnam. Moso is the
type of bamboo used in textiles. There are over 1,600
different types of bamboo.

Bamboo, Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

While human activity is producing more carbon dioxide, it is also severely damaging the ability of the planet to absorb carbon dioxide via its carbon sinks - the forests. Growing forests absorb carbon dioxide but deforestation results in fewer trees soaking up rising levels of carbon dioxide. Bamboo minimizes carbon dioxide and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. 100 acres of bamboo absorbs 62 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while 100 acres of young non-bamboo forest only absorbs 15.

Bamboo and Deforestation

Bamboo planting can slow deforestation, providing an alternative source of timber for the construction industry and cellulose fibre for the textile industry. It allows communities to turn away from the destruction of their native forests and to construct commercial bamboo plantations that can be selectively harvested annually without the destruction of the grove. Tree plantations have to be chopped down and terminated at harvest but bamboo keeps on growing. When a bamboo cane is cut down,it will produce another shoot and is ready for harvest again in a year. Compare this to cotton - harvesting organic cotton requires the decimation of the entire crop causing bare soils to bake in the sun and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Ancient scroll painting of bamboo
Ancient scroll painting of bamboo

Water Usage: Bamboo vs Cotton

No irrigation water is used in the growth of our bamboo since it is wild. An added plus, the water-use efficiency of bamboo is twice that of other trees. This makes bamboo more able to handle harsh weather conditions such as drought, flood and high temperatures. Compare bamboo to cotton which is a thirsty crop - it can take up to 5,283 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of cotton! Furthermore, 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land. Some estimates indicate that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities.

Bamboo Prevents Soil Erosion

Yearly replanting of crops such as cotton leads to soil erosion. Bamboo has an extensive root system that is not uprooted during harvesting. That means bamboo actually helps preserve soil and prevent soil erosion. Bamboo's root systems creates an effective watershed, stitching soil together along fragile river banks, deforested areas, and in places prone to mudslides. Naturally, it also greatly reduces rain run-off. On the other hand, conventional cotton-growing also causes severe reduction in soil quality through the impact of the constant use of pesticides on natural organisms in the soil.

Bamboo Uses No Pesticides and Fertilizers

An enormous benefit of using bamboo is that it requires no pesticides or fertilizers! Amazingly, bamboo contains a substance called bamboo-kun - an antimicrobial agent that gives bamboo a natural resistance to pest and fungi infestation. By contrast, only 2.4% of the world's arable land is planted with cotton, yet cotton accounts for 24% of the world's insecticide market and 11% of the sale of global pesticides. Many of the pesticides used for cotton are both hazardous and toxic.

These of course are only some of the reasons we love bamboo! The rest you should be wearing! :)