In the world of organic clothing, bamboo fiber has been getting a lot of buzz lately due to the speed at which the plant grows, its anti-bacterial agents and moisture-wicking properties. So we were curious to check it out for ourselves when American Family Naturally and Natural Clothing Company sent us some bamboo t-shirts, dresses, socks and towels to try out.
As a source for textiles, bamboo is incredible: It can grow 3-4 feet per day without using any pesticides or chemical fertilizers, requires very little water, minimizes CO2 and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees, and can even improve soil quality. But it’s in the manufacturing process where the plant’s eco-friendliness comes into question, and the results seem to vary from company to company.
Bamboo fiber is a type of viscose, so most manufacturers use a steaming process to extract bamboo leaves and the soft part of the bamboo trunk, then crush it mechanically and soak it in sodium hydroxide to produce cellulose. If used responsibly, the chemical– which is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standards and the Soil Association– reportedly has no impact on the environment and employee health, but some critics carp that the long-term impacts of sodium hydroxide are not yet known. There are other processes for manufacturing bamboo fiber that result in higher costs and more energy expenditures, but at this point most companies seem to prefer the aforementioned method.
And the results? The products we sampled were remarkably smooth, with a silky sheen that reminded us of cashmere. The bamboo’s ventilation and absorption made the t-shirts and socks surprisingly comfortable, containing perspiration and odor even during a workout. In fact, the washcloths were so soft that Mary actually became indignant when I used them to wipe my sweat, insisting they were too good to use as rags and should be reserved for washing our faces! So while the jury’s still out on how “Green” bamboo clothes are, there’s no denying the fact that it looks and feels amazing. –Bret Love