Bamboo is considered one of the most sustainable resources in the world. It has many advantages, some of the main ones being it’s fast growing nature and its ability to grow in diverse environments. Bamboo belongs to the grass family and it can reach 35 meters tall (115ft), with some species growing over a meter a day. The bamboo species used to produce clothing is known as Moso bamboo.
Bamboo also grows very densely, it has a clumping nature which enables a lot of it to be grown in a comparatively small area, easing pressure on land area. The average yield for bamboo is up to 60 tonnes per hectare, which greatly exceeds the average yield of 20 tonnes for most trees. Bamboo shoots reach their full height in just eight to ten weeks, and each cane reaches maturity in three to five years. As it is a grass, it is able to regenerate after being cut without the need for replanting, just like a lawn.
Bamboo minimises CO2 and generates up to 35% more oxygen that similar strands of trees. It is calculated that one hectare of bamboo sequesters 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Bamboo planting can also slow deforestation providing an alternative source of cellulose fibre for the textile industry. At the same time, it helps preserve and improve soil quality and prevents soil erosion. This is due to the extensive root system it has, that holds soil together.
In regards to water consumption, there is evidence to show that the water-use efficiency of bamboo is twice that of trees. This allows for bamboo to be able to handle harsher weather conditions.
Most importantly, when it comes to bamboo, there is no need to use pesticides or fertilizers.
An interesting fact is that, similar to other cellulose-based clothing materials, bamboo fibre is biodegradable in soil by micro-organisms and sunlight. This means that bamboo clothing can be composted and disposed of in an organic and environmentally friendly manner.
From Bamboo to clothing
To make bamboo into clothing there are two ways – mechanically or chemically. The mechanical way consists of crushing the woody parts of the plant and then natural enzymes are used to break the bamboo walls into a mushy mass so that the natural fibres can be mechanically combed out and spun into yarn. Bamboo fabric manufactured through this process is also known as bamboo linen. As this is labour intensive, costly and time consuming this is less used.
Bamboo fibre manufactured chemically is a regenerated cellulose fibre similar to rayon or modal, and is sometimes called bamboo rayon. The majority of bamboo fabric is manufactured by immersing the bamboo leaves and woody shoots in chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide in a process known as hydrolysis alkalization. When cellulose is formed, this is forced through spinneret nozzles into a container of a diluted sulphuric acid solution. This hardens the viscose bamboo cellulose and reconverts it to cellulose bamboo fibre threads which are spun into bamboo fibre yarns to be woven into reconstructed and regenerated bamboo fabric.
More recent manufacturers have started using technologies to chemically manufacture bamboo fibre that are eco-friendlier. This involves modifying the chemical manufacturing procedure used to produce lyocell from wood cellulose to produce bamboo cellulose. This process uses N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide to dissolve the bamboo cellulose into a viscose solution. The amine oxides found in this solution help break down the cellulose structure. Hydrogen peroxide is added as a stabilizer and the solution is forced through spinnerets into a hardening bath which in turn causes the thin streams of viscose bamboo solution to harden into bamboo cellulose fibre threads. The threads can then be spun into yarn and made into clothing.
Other chemical manufacturing procedures for bamboo fabric are making an appearance, including the use of acetic anhydride and acetic acid with sulfuric acid as a catalyst to form acetate fibre which is then spun into a yarn.
Chemically manufactured bamboo rayon has some great properties which eco-friendly consumers love. Some of these include:
- The natural shine and softness bamboo fibres have, which feels similar to silk but more affordable and durable. Clothes made from bamboo are also easier to launder and do not require as much ironing as they are naturally more wrinkle resistant.
- Bamboo fabric has the ability to stop odours from producing and spreading in the material, thus allowing the bamboo clothing to be more hygienic and fresher smelling. This is due to bamboos natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, linked to bacteriostatic agents in the plant.
- It is soft and non-irritating even to sensitive skin, due to the smooth and round structure of its fibres. Bamboo clothing is also hypoallergenic.
- It is a highly absorbent fabric, it does not stick to the body in humid weather, keeping you drier, cooler and more comfortable. Due to the structure of the fibres bamboo fabrics are more breathable and thermal regulating than cotton or synthetic fabrics.
No wonder our cute panda friends love it so much!