There is an undeniable trend in the growth of popularity with bamboo material and clothing. It is soft, silky and apparently very “eco-friendly”.
Naturally there were enough compelling reasons for us to investigate whether bamboo clothing or socks makes sense for us. In fact I even bought bamboo baby clothing for my own kids and I loved them until I did more research… and I was quite surprised with the findings.
Contrary to popular opinion and claims, bamboo fibre used in industrial textile production is not considered a natural fibre. GOTS - the highest standards and certification for organic textiles makes the following statement:
“For almost all bamboo fibre used in industrial textile production not the natural bamboo is used but it is melted and regenerated in a viscose/rayon process and can therefore not be considered as natural or even organic fibre, even if the bamboo plant was originally certified organic on the field.”
In 2010, the Canadian Competition Bureau ordered manufacturers to remove the “eco-friendly” label from textiles made from bamboo cellulose because it was misleading to consumers. International textile labelling regulations and the Federal Trade Commission has so far fined major retailers over US$2.5 million for misleading consumers by calling it bamboo (see the FTC’s specific wording below).
The FTC states: “the soft textiles you see labeled ‘bamboo’ don’t contain any part of the bamboo plant. They are made from bamboo that has been processed into rayon using toxic chemicals. When bamboo is processed into rayon, no trace of the original plant is left.”
In summary the fabric used to make clothing “from bamboo” is not natural and cannot be claimed as eco-friendly. The processing in itself requires several chemicals to be used - that are not only harmful to the environment but also the workers and the us, consumers who wear it.
Any fabric (synthetic or natural) may be treated with chemicals such as fire retardants (bamboo rayon is particularly flammable so often is), formaldehyde to prevent wrinkling, and dyes. This is another element to take into account when “bamboo fabric” is being promoted as an eco friendly material. These chemicals are bonded to the fibres.
Bamboo or the derivatives of bamboo like Rayon and Viscose are often cited as a perfect example of fabric that is “greenwashed”.
This article has some graphic detail about the potential hazards of the rayon process, the deforestation being caused for its production, and how major fashion houses are being pressured to clean up their supply chains.
It’s also why there are no rayon producers in the U.S. It’s too toxic to comply with the EPA’s standards – workers are at high risk of insanity, nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke. And that’s inside the factory. Once you have a factory dumping these chemicals into the waterway, the whole community can be poisoned.
In China, there’s abundant evidence of rayon production is poisoning workers and the local bodies of water, even turning a lake black. In India, a plant is dumping into a tributary to the Ganges, poisoning local families, causing the mental faculties of children to degenerate before they reach their teens. (Rayon has been washed multiple times and is safe by the time it reaches consumers.)
Many brands have taken a stance against rayon fabric. Patagonia, is one of them. In their own words this is why they do not use rayon fabric:
…cellulose material (such as bamboo) is dissolved in a strong solvent to make a thick, viscous solution that is forced through a spinneret into a quenching solution where strands solidify into fiber. This is sometimes called hydrolysis alkalization or solution spinning because the fiber is “spun” in a chemical solution. The solvent used for this process is carbon disulfide, a toxic chemical that is a known human reproductive hazard. It can endanger factory workers and pollute the environment via air emissions and wastewater. The recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%, which means that the other half goes into the environment. Other potentially hazardous chemicals are also used in the viscose process, including sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. Because of these environmental issues, Patagonia does not use rayon fabric or bamboo fabric made by the viscose process.
At Q for Quinn we are committed to doing our research and testing to ensure the products we create are safe for our children and the workers who make them.
For more information on bamboo clothing, this video is a great resource.
Some FAQs about Rayon and Viscose
What is Viscose Rayon from Bamboo?
What is the difference between Viscose and Rayon?
Viscose and Rayon are similar because viscose fabric is considered as being a type of rayon, but it is not identical to it.
Viscose or Rayon made from Bamboo are the same.
How is Bamboo turned into Rayon / Viscose?
Despite being made from purified cellulose, which is a natural material harvested from wood pulp, Rayon’s chemical processing is what makes it different from natural fibers such as cotton, wool or silk. The latter require no (or very little) chemical processing to be spun into yarn for textile use, whereas rayon and man-made fibres depend on these processes to be turned into the yarn used for clothes and other textile products.
Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber, which means that a natural raw material is converted through a chemical process into a fiber that falls into a category between naturals and synthetics. The source of cellulose can be wood, paper, cotton fiber or, in this case, bamboo.
Is Rayon or Viscose from Bamboo eco-friendly?
This is the point of this article. Bamboo products are usually VERY sustainable for the following reasons: the plant is naturally pest resistant, 100% biodegradable, anti fungal, antibacterial, and regrows to its adult size in 3 to 5 years.
However, if chemically processed, the chemicals and toxins released can be extremely harmful to the environment. Regulatory bodies have banned the use of "eco-friendly" claims for any textiles made from Bamboo
Is Bamboo baby clothing safe?
The use of chemicals in processing the Bamboo plant for textiles makes us hesitant to say it is "safe" for babies, kids or even adults. The handling of Bamboo textiles in production is dangerous for workers, however these textiles are usually washed off of the chemicals and may be deemed safe for wear. Since textiles made from Rayon or Viscose are not certified by GOTS we do not use these materials in our clothing.