Bamboo has been gaining grounds now as a top fabric source in regards to quality and sustainability. This overtaking is even overshadowing the more classical and commonly used cotton. Is bamboo actually better than cotton for the planet? We’ve compared both to give you an all-encompassing idea of what is best.
Bamboo in clothing is not a new thing. The plant was woven together to make hats and shoes in ancestral China and Japan to protect rural workers from sun exposure. In the 18th century Western countries even used bamboo to make corsets and other structural womanly items. However, in recent years technological advances have allowed bamboo to become more widespread as a textile source, notably thanks to the rayon process making (more on that later).
The use of cotton for fabric is known to date to prehistoric times; fragments of cotton fabric dated from 5000 BC have been excavated in Mexico and between 6000 BC and 5000 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization. Although cultivated since antiquity, it was the invention of the cotton gin in the year 500 that lowered the cost of production that led to its widespread use. It is today the most widely used natural fiber cloth in clothing today.
Production and Sustainability
More than 25 percent of the world’s pesticides are used in conventional cotton production according to Eco Watch. In contrast, organic cotton is grown without toxic and synthetic chemical inputs. Organic cotton production is wary of soil fertility management, crop nutrition and is based on crop diversification and organic inputs such as compost, mulch and manures. In addition, pest management measures focus essentially on pest prevention and the stimulation of a balanced agroecosystem through crop rotation, mixed cultivation, trap crops, (as opposed to monocultures which cause soil depletion) and the use of natural pesticides when pest infestation rises above the economic threshold.
We recommend: When buying organic cotton it is also important to look for natural dyes to further reduce the amount of chemicals dumped into our ecosystem.
Bamboo in textile production is commonly made thanks to a chemical process known as rayon, a manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber that is made from purified cellulose, primarily from wood pulp (bamboo here) that is converted into a soluble compound. This process has been met with much resistance from sustainable fashion experts because it requires toxic chemicals. These chemicals, sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, change the genetic structure of natural bamboo, turning it into rayon. But the disposal of these chemicals can lead to soil and water contamination. Bamboo clothing is de facto misinterpreted as sustainable because it’s ‘derived from a plant’, however the the plant is not the problem (bamboos are actually pretty awesome) but rather the questionable ways in which it is being processed into fabric. A more sustainable form of bamboo is that which is processed mechanically. More on this here.
Price and Quality
The advantage of Bamboo fiber is that it cheap because it is one of the fastest growing plants on earth, with one species recorded growing three feet in a single day. Yet the right kind of bamboo, mechanically processed bamboo, tends to be more expensive because of the multi-step process it requires. In terms of quality, Bamboo apparel is highly absorbent, very breathable, and ultra-soft. It is also resistant to odour, mold, mildew, and bacteria even after numerous washings. Bamboo fabrics do not wrinkle and do not require fabric softener (it actually isn’t even recommended).
We recommend: check for Check for Oeko-tex certification to ensure adherance to people and planet friendly manufacturing processes if buying bamboo apparel.
Organic Cotton is more pricey than regular cotton, however it is a much more durable fabric. Not exposed to weakening chemicals, organic cotton lasts many years. In addition, organic cotton fibres are softer and stronger as they are not broken down by chemical processing. The completely natural fibres are healthy and comfortable to the touch as chemicals are not in contact with the skin.