Bamboo fiber processing
Bamboo manufacturing is not a new trade. The fast growing bamboo plant has been used for centuries. What can you NOT make out of bamboo? Well, 10 years ago, you could only use bamboo for food, furniture, crafts, paper, building and even for producing oxygen and improving soil nitrogen (as if that wasn’t enough). But then the Chinese figured out that the same process of making bamboo paper (a Chinese invention) could be taken a step further to make bamboo fabric.
And so, the bamboo textile craze was on.
How does it happen?
With the Shoo-Foo bamboo manufacturing process, bamboo is cut by local village people who have been doing this for centuries. Actually, bamboo is like grass, and cutting it properly (yes, it’s a skill!), helps keep the bamboo forest alive. Farmers pile harvest on the side of the road where it will be picked up by the factory workers.
Then, under the effect of a steam system, stems and leaves are isolated and broken into a pulp called “cellulose”. Cellulose is the form of bamboo that can been spun unto thread and then woven into fabrics of all types.
The process of breaking down bamboo into a fibre suitable for making fabric does use caustic soda, which is a chemical also used in food production, and in the production of organic cotton. Caustic soda (aka Sodium hydroxide) is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and the UK Soil Association. Caustic soda does not remain as a residue on clothing as it easily washes away and can be neutralised to harmless and non-toxic sodium sulphate salt. The resulting liquid is contained in a “closed-loop” solvent spinning system – meaning it is recycled at 99.5% to make more bamboo cellulose instead of being leaked into waterways. This is probably the most environmental way of making bamboo fabric, as it also saves both energy and water.
As far as bamboo is concerned, this is mainly the plant-to-yarn stage that requires the use of softening agents. Once made into yarn ready for spinning into threads, bamboo does not require much in the way of scouring, bleaching, shaping or cleaning. In fact, at the fiber point, most chemicals and steps in the cotton process would damage the bamboo yarn anyway.
Production of cotton on the other hand, both ‘regular’ and organic, requires several steps involving energy consumption to clean, size, soften, bleach, strengthen, smooth, and do other things to prepare it for use in a product. From cleaning agents to get rid of sticks, ginning machines to remove seeds, oxidizers to bleach away yellow-ness and gas flames to smooth out surface fibers, the process is hefty and much more harsh on the planet in terms of byproduct when compared to bamboo.
There is a way to make bamboo using machines and no chemicals, but that process is so costly and so labour intensive, there is hardly anyone using that technology today. But the good news is that technology progresses, and the bamboo manufacturing process is improving, so there is hope to keep rooting for the zero-chemical approach.
What is Lyocell? (i.e. Tencel)
The production of Lyocell is similar to the process of making bamboo, only it uses wood pulp from hardwood (oak, birch, eucalyptus, among others) as its source instead of bamboo.
Many people refer to the closed-loop process describe above as the “lyocell process“; referring to the technique which produce cellulose fibre from dissolving pulp (bleached wood pulp) using dry jet-wet spinning. Lyocell is traditionally made from hardwood logs or chips (often birch or oak) and more recently from eucalyptus (then called Tencel), while bamboo is made, well, from bamboo!
Is bamboo manufacturing really a “green” process?
Truth be told, the production of bamboo is one of the most eco-sustainable when compared to the steps involved in the growth, use of resources and manufacturing of other fabrics.
During growth, bamboo has zero impact on the planet. It is a plant that grows naturally with just rain and sun – no land reclaiming, no irrigation and no replanting necessary (bamboo can grow to full maturity within 3 to 4 years, all on it’s own). The plant itself is a natural deterrent to pests, so it requires no pesticides or insecticides. The forests are managed by local communities and harvesting is done without chemicals and without large machinery– it is all mechanical, as it has been done for centuries.
We are proud to say that the bamboo fibres we used for our products have obtained the FSC Chain of Custody Certification – meaning that from the bamboo forest to the fibres, all successive stages of production meet the criteria and rules requested to assure a responsible stewardship of the world’s forests
Why make bamboo textiles in China?
First, the know-how of producing bamboo fabrics has been developed in China and we believe that the best quality in this category of products still comes from China.
Second, the natural resources used to make our products is located in China (up to now, no other countries in the World produce yarns made from cellulose of bamboo). In order to keep our supply chain short and eco-efficient, we’ve decide to handle all the transformation process in China.
Certifications of our organic bamboo textiles
Read about the Organic Certifications of our products.
This post is also available in: French