Looking to wear more sustainable clothes? Navigating eco-friendly fashion can be difficult, but I’m here to help! Today I’m focusing on bamboo-based fabrics, and how we turn trees into fibres. I’ve teamed up with BAM Clothing*, a leading bamboo clothing specialist, to take me through the process of turning brittle fibres into soft, flexible activewear and soft, cosy knits.
In my guide to sustainable fabrics, I noted that bamboo fabrics, alongside other tree-based materials like tencel, lyocell, modal, are popping up everywhere. I first got to grips with bamboo when I tried out a set of underwear made from the stuff back in 2016 – now, it’s commonplace to see bamboo socks, leggings, and even jumpers made from the stuff!
Here’s how it gets from tree to hanger, and how it’s more sustainable than similar fabrics…
How Is Bamboo Clothing Made?
So, let’s take a look at how bamboo is made into a breathable, stretchy, and sustainable fabric. BAM Clothing makes all of their high-quality bamboo clothes using a four step process:
- Growing bamboo in sustainably-managed forests
- Drying bamboo into a pulp
- Turning pulp into a fibre
- Making bamboo fibres into clothing
Here’s a deep dive into each step of the process:
1. Growing Bamboo
Our journey starts in China’s Chongqing Province, where BAM sources its bamboo from sustainably-managed forests*. These forests naturally grow here, and the bamboo is grown on steep slopes, often where no other plants will grow.
Bamboo is an incredibly hardy plant – in fact, it’s actually a grass, and a resilient one at that. It can seed in nutrient-poor soil, and grow up to 36 inches in just one day, making it one of the world’s fastest growing plants.
Compared to cotton, bamboo can yield up to 10 times more raw material in the same space. On average, bamboo also takes half the amount of land to provide the same amount of fibre. And it all grows without the need of pesticides!
2. Drying Bamboo into Pulp
Once bamboo has grown to maturity, it is harvested in a way that keeps the core plant growing (and can be re-harvested year on year, supporting soil health and biodiversity, as well as storing carbon).
The fresh harvest is sent to a pulp producer who dries it out and turns it into a pulp. Alongside fabrics, this pulp can be made into paper or tissue.
BAM Clothing’s Sustainability Expert, Merryn, visited the factory they use to see how this works. She saw how the factory breaks the bamboo down into pulp, then dries it into sheets which are easier to transport, while using waste-treatment technology to avoid any unnecessary pollution.
3. Turning Pulp into Fibre
Now comes the amazing bit – turning bamboo pulp into fibres. BAM Clothing works with a factory that rehydrates the dried sheets and safely uses chemicals to break this pulp down into a liquid form, which is then made into a fibre. This is called bamboo viscose.
In fact, this is how bamboo fibres are made 99.9% of the time – mechanical bamboo fibres are possible, but they are incredibly labour intensive and it produces an almost unwearable fabric. So when you see ‘bamboo’ on the label of any kind of clothing, it’s bamboo viscose, and it’s made using this pulp-liquid-fibre process.
4. Making Bamboo Fibre into Clothes
Finally, once the fibres are ready, they’re sent on to one of BAM’s garment suppliers in China or Turkey. BAM chooses their manufacturers carefully, looking to protect people and planet across their supply chain, working with a small number of suppliers that they visit regularly.
BAM tends to create sustainable activewear, as well as loungewear, baselayers, and socks. Bamboo fabric is light and strong, has excellent wicking properties too, making it the perfect material for activewear. And I love how they blend their bamboo viscose fabric with other sustainable materials depending on the item they’re creating.
8 Of The Best Bamboo Clothing Brands In The UK
Alongside BAM, here’s a list of clothing brands making bamboo clothing more mainstream. Plus, this list has been updated for 2022!
BAM Clothing*: Bamboo clothing specialists, creating sustainable activewear, knitwear, underwear, and more.
Boba: Organic cotton and bamboo slings for parent and baby.
Boody*: Basic underwear made from bamboo viscose (and I can attest to how well it lasts – four years and counting!)
Cariuma: Sneaker brand using bamboo, recycled plastics, canvas and more.
Hara The Label: Bamboo underwear made in cute pastel pinks, burnt oranges, and more.
Mori: Organic cotton and bamboo baby clothes in soft, gender neutral tones.
Seasalt Cornwall*: Bamboo and cotton blended socks in florals, prints, and more.
Thought*: Bamboo socks that come in pretty patterns, stripes, and more.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by BAM Bamboo Clothing. All views and opinions expressed remain my own. This post contains affiliate links (denoted '*').