Bamboo fabric is fast becoming the textile of the future. Its extraordinary qualities make bamboo clothing quite the favourite with international designers like Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta. Add to this, its amazing eco-friendliness and relatively low cost and it’s no surprise that bamboo clothing now offers stiff competition to traditional luxury fabrics like cashmere and silk.
Bamboo can be processed in two ways to make fabric:
Mechanical process: The woody portions of bamboo plants are crushed. Natural enzymes are used to break down the hard walls. Bamboo fibre is extracted from the resulting mush and spun into yarn. Similar to the way linen fabric is produced from hemp or flax, this method yields a high quality, silky soft and durable fabric also known as bamboo linen. Since the process is expensive and labour intensive, not much bamboo linen is produced.
Chemical process: Bamboo fabric made this way is also called bamboo rayon. Here, the plant’s leaves and woody stems are ‘cooked’ in caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and carbon disulfide, both known to cause health problems among workers. The resulting viscose bamboo cellulose is injected through spinneret nozzles into vats of diluted sulphuric acid. The viscose bamboo hardens into fibre threads that are spun into yarn.
Most of the bamboo clothing sold today comes from chemically processed bamboo fibre. While this hardly merits the eco-friendly tag, emerging new technologies in the field promise solutions kinder to the environment and humans.
Bamboo clothing offers several, irresistible advantages over other textiles:
- Bamboo fabric is hypoallergenic.
- The smooth, rounded structure of bamboo fibres lends bamboo clothing a softness that is ideal for sensitive skin.
- Bamboo clothing has high absorbency levels, ideal for humid, warm weather. It wicks away perspiration 3-4 times quicker than cotton, keeping you cool and dry.
- Another plus, bamboo clothing won’t stick to your skin. Bamboo fabric has superior thermal qualities compared to cotton, linen, wool or synthetics.
- Bamboo fabric has a natural lustre and drapes like a dream, two reasons why fashion designers love it, apart from it being a more affordable, eco-friendly substitute for silk.
- Bamboo clothing is easy to care for, just toss into your washing machine and dryer!
Bamboo, both the plant and fibre, is quite the superstar on the eco-friendliness scale. It is fast-growing, hardy, and adaptable to climatic conditions. It requires little irrigation. Bamboo grows densely, thereby occupying less land area than cotton and producing much higher yields. Unlike cotton, bamboo requires virtually no chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Finally, bamboo clothing is 100% biodegradable and can be safely disposed off as compost!