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Don’t Be Bamboozled by Bamboo Fabrics

9/18/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: bamboo, rayon, products, fabric

Bamboo emerged about a decade ago as a promising eco-alternative to wood. It requires no pesticides to grow, and because it grows quickly, bamboo forests can be replenished in less time than it takes other crops to grow. But when bamboo fabric hit the market a couple years ago, many people wondered how such a stiff plant could be turned into a soft, silky textile.

Turns out that’s a really good question. 

bamboo fabrics
An expensive chemical process that emits pollutants turns bamboo into rayon. Photo By iheartlinen/Courtesy Flickr. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last month that clothing and other textiles labeled as bamboo are actually made of rayon. To turn bamboo into a fiber, the plant must go through the same chemical process used to make rayon. The bamboo is treated with toxic chemicals that emit hazardous air pollutants, and the end result is a manufactured fabric with none of the plant’s original traits left. So, even though the label on your sheets and shirts may say bamboo, they’re actually made of rayon. 

The FTC has already charged four companies with falsely labeling and advertising their clothing and textile products as made of bamboo. Sami Designs (Jonäno), CSE (Mad Mod) and Pure Bamboo have settled with the FTC and agreed to stop making the false claims, but The M Group (Bamboosa) has so far refused to settle. 

In a letter to Kevin Tuerff, blogger and CEO of Green Canary Sustainability Consulting, The M Group principal Morris Saintsing wrote, “With our upstream suppliers calling it ‘bamboo fiber,’ how would we know they were using the wrong terminology? The fiber is ‘rayon from bamboo’ or ‘viscose from bamboo’. So, it is a ‘fiber from bamboo’ but not ‘bamboo fiber.’ That’s a pretty fine line.” 

The FTC is now requiring companies to provide reliable evidence, such as scientific tests and analyses, to show that their products are made of actual bamboo fiber. The FTC has put out alerts for both consumers and suppliers. To file a complaint or get more information, visit the FTC’s website.

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