Clothing worn by many people is often made from cotton, wool, flax, and other fibers, including animal hair, may either be allergenic or made from crops which require a great deal of effort and expense to grow. While some fabrics have been traditionally used for centuries, there is now an excellent alternative which is not only more friendly for health and environmental reasons, but is from a plant which could create extra income for farmers, and with very little expense on their part.
It be hard to believe, but a green plant many people have growing as a decorative addition to their garden may one day be one of main fibers for manufacturing clothing, linens, curtains, and other fabrics that are presently being made from cotton (a very wasteful pant) and various synthetic fibers. Presently a number of fashion designers and manufacturers are becoming interested in this plant that can grow in many types of climates and needs little or no attention. And that green plant is bamboo.
Bamboo is actually a type of grass, coming from the biological family poaceae. Although usually found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, it is also found in certain parts of the USA, and as far south as Chile and South Africa. Some types of bamboo grow as fast as a meter per day in tropical areas. An extremely environmental friendly plant (they absorb about 5 times the amount of carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas, and produces about 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees) bamboo has been used for centuries for making a number items, ranging from baskets and other utility items, curtains, sleeping mats and paper. It has been used in China for centuries, even for food. It’s only been more recently that bamboo fiber and cellulose has become so much in demand, that a number of clothing manufacturers are giving it increased attention. Some of these include Linda Loudermilk and Kate O’Connor, who use Bamboo fabric as a replacement for silk, rayon and other fabrics. After processing, bamboo fabric is found to be as soft and supple as silk and cashmere, and is preferable to many people since no animals or animal products are used in its manufacture.
While the plant itself is an ecological wonder, there are some aspects of the processing of various parts of the bamboo plant that should be noted, however. There are basically two ways to process the plant: mechanically or chemically: Mechanical processing involves crushing the bamboo stalks and using natural enzymes to break down the fiber into a pliable substance from which the fibers can be combed out and spun in yarn. Chemical processing is much more questionable from an environmental sake; as it involved using a number of chemicals and solvents such as sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda) and carbon disulfide, both of which can cause serious health problems.
Taking this into overall consideration, using bamboo fiber over petroleum based ones, fibers made from animal products, and cotton which requires a lot of water, fertilizers and human attention. The use of bamboo for making clothing and other fabrics will become more acceptable as newer, more eco-friendly manufacturing technologies such as the “lyocell process” which uses N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide to dissolve the bamboo cellulose into a viscose solution. Known as “weak alkaloids” these chemicals are more environmentally friendly than those such as sodium hydroxide.
Besides having an amazing softness, processed bamboo fabrics have a number of environmental and health benefits. They are 100% biodegradable, and are hypo-allergenic, making them wonderful for people allergic to wool and other animal fibers. The bamboo plant itself does not need chemical fertilizers, and by using photosynthesis, helps reduce carbon dioxide levels. The plant’s extensive root system also helps hold soil together, preventing soil erosion.