What is it?
Bamboo is the name used to describe the many textiles that are made from the bamboo plant. As a naturally occuring resource materials have been produced from the bamboo plant for thousands of years it is only with the developent of recent technologies that the process has been perfected.
Bamboo is easy to grow, and is one of the fastest growing plants on earth accelerating to the sky at a rate of over 12 inches per day it matures in just two years and grows in areas not suitable for other crops. In theory this makes for a product with low enviromental impact but modern demand has led to cases of deforestation to create space to grow bamboo.
The majority of the bamboo fabric used in the textile industry is bamboo viscose, it's cheap to produce but has environmental downsides and represents workplace hazards. So as an ethically aware consumer it is crucial that you know that the fabric you buy is produced ethically and in an environmentally sustainble way. The newest version of bamboo viscose is rayon. This is a semi-synthetic fabric that was originally designed as a replacement for silk.
Bamboo fabric is highly breathable and stretchier than cotton and easily combined with other fabrics to create thinner textiles with the same properties. Clothing made of bamboo rayon typically lasts even longer and holds its shape even better than clothing made of simple bamboo fiber.
Bamboo textiles naturally help to control your temperature; In colder climbs the cross-sectional fibres trap warm air helping to retain your body heat whereas in warmer times the fibres can absorb three times their weight in water which means that it has an excellent wicking ability and pulls water away from the skin so that it can evaporate and help to cool you down.
How is it made?
The single largest exporter of this material is China. The process for producing viscose rayon is incredibly wasteful, but the waste can be handled sustainably when the right manufacturing processes are in use. Unfortunately in many cases it is not, and the harmful waste product called carbon disulfide is a toxic chemical known to cause a variety of health problems.
The first step in the production is the extraction of cellulose from the bamboo wood pulp. A diverse array of processes have been designed to handle this part of bamboo viscose manufacture but the majority use nasty chemicals like caustic soda.
Once extracted the cellulose is compressed into sheets and exposed to carbon disulfide (a toxic neurotoxin known to cause organ damage) and then filtered. It then goes through a spinning process to transform the sheet into strands which are then dunked in sulfuric acid to create filaments which can then be spun into yarn and woven into fabric.
Organic bamboo cellulose is created within a closed loop manufacturing process that doesn't chemically alter the structure of the cellulose. In closed loop production the chemicals and solvents mentioned above can be reused which significantly improves the environmental impact of the fabric.
Lyocell-Type bamboo fabrics use a natural enzyme crushed into bamboo wood fibres instead of chemically intensive extraction methods to create the yarn. It has a soft silky texture and when the fabric is produced using this method it is not environmentally harmful and the textile is strong and long lasting. This mechanical method of production also has the benefit of preserving the anti-bacterial properties of bamboo that are lost in chemical manufacturing processes.
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