Bamboo, Bamboo Charcoal
Bamboo-blended fabrics offer outstanding performance characteristics, which along with an eco-friendly reputation has created a boom in the demand.
It offers luxurious softness, is naturally hypoallergenic, is breathable and wicks moisture away from the skin about four times faster than cotton. Bamboo fabrics are generally 1 to 2 degrees cooler to the touch than other fabrics, and provide excellent UV protection. It is also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal due to the properties of "bamboo kun," which helps bamboo fabric resist harboring odors and keeps it smelling fresher for longer.
Then there are environmental benefits: Bamboo as a crop is extremely quick and easy to grow, and most of it is naturally organic and very sustainable. Bamboo plants absorb about five times the amount of carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas) and produces about 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. Bamboo clothing is 100% biodegradable.
All these things would seem to make bamboo fabrics the next big thing, right? Not so fast. Due to the difficulty involved in transforming bamboo into fiber, it may not be as eco-friendly as one might think - at least not yet.
For one, bamboo grown for textile production comes almost exclusively from China, and same goes for bamboo fiber production, making it difficult at best to monitor manufacturing processes. Then there is the matter of the energy consumption involved in transporting the fabric or finished goods to the U.S.
But the real core of the bamboo debate lies in the manufacturing processes used to convert bamboo from plant to fabric. There are two ways to do it: mechanically or chemically. The more expensive mechanical way crushes the bamboo into a pulp before it is combed out and spun into yarn. The more common chemical way creates a regenerated cellulose bamboo fiber similar to rayon or modal. The chemical process causes environmental concern due to the use of solvents which "cook" the bamboo leaves and stems in a process known as hydrolysis alkalization combined with multi-phase bleaching, which is not considered sustainable or environmentally supportable.
With market appeal for bamboo clothing growing, newer manufacturing facilities are coming online using methods to chemically manufacture bamboo that are environmentally benign.
Bamboo charcoal is another technology. Nano-particles of bamboo charcoal are embedded into cotton, polyester or nylon fibers that are woven to create fabrics with the same performance characteristics as bamboo-based fabrics
Recycled PET is a durable, eco-friendly fabric made from post consumer recycled plastic bottles, such as soft drink and bottled water containers.
Approximately 31% of the plastic bottles produced in the U.S. are made from PolyEthylene Terephtalate, or PET. In the U.S. alone, more than 45 billion plastic containers ended up in landfills in 2006. Recycling PET by re-melting it and extruding it as a new fiber saves raw materials while taking a dent out of the amount of plastic bottles going into landfills. One square yard of recycled PET fabric contains roughly five two-liter soda bottles. It can require anywhere from six to 20 bottles to make a sweatshirt. Another way of looking at it is that there are about plastic 10 bottles in each pound of PET fiber.
Ecospun is the best-known PET fabric. Ecospun is made of 100% certified recycled plastic PET bottles, and is used in many textile products including clothing, blankets, carpets, wall coverings, auto interiors and home furnishings. It can also be blended with other fibers such as cotton, wool or rayon.
Ecospun itself has the capacity to keep almost 3 billion plastic bottles out of landfills each year, saving over a half million barrels of oil. The manufacturer says the amount of petroleum saved annually by using post-consumer bottles instead of virgin materials is enough to supply power to a city the size of Atlanta for an entire year.
After being sorted by type and color, plastic PET containers are stripped of labels and caps, washed, and chopped into flake. These tiny pieces, Ecospun says, are then melted, liquefied, and extruded from spinnerets. In the final stages of drawing, the filaments are crimped, cut into desired staple length, and baled. The baled fiber can then be processed into fabric.
Choosing products made from recycled PET promotes a more sustainable path for plastic.
"Vegetable cashmere" is a common nickname for soy-based fabric, a softer, more luxurious (and more expensive) alternative to organic cotton. Soybean fiber is a renewable resource and a byproduct of the food industry. Some soy fibers are organic while others are not, but all soy fibers are better for the environment than most fabrics.
In addition to being durable and "green," it is a performance fabric, providing good ventilation and UV protection while offering antibacterial properties, heat retention similar to cotton and water conductivity similar to polyester.
Soybean fiber can be blended with other fabrics like cotton, polyester or even bamboo. Promotional apparel manufacturer Colorado Trading & Clothing Company offers "Soybu," a soy/bamboo blend that feels like cashmere and is cool to the skin. Ash City also offers a pair of soybean/cotton/Spandex blend polo shirt styles in its new eco-friendly collection.
As consumers seek an organic and sustainable lifestyle, the demand for organic cotton has undergone tremendous growth. The increased knowledge regarding "green" practices and the anticipation of leaving the planet as a better place has encouraged businesses of all types to get involved.
Just to put things in perspective, Organic Product Sales globally in 2005 were $583 million. The projected sales for 2008 are $3.5 billion. Apparel is 85% of the sales. At the present time, 50% of women surveyed want more organic products available in retail stores, 11% consider themselves to be "green" and 43% say they expect to be "extremely green" within five years. We can already calculate that organic cotton production must continue to grow at an annual rate of 40% to meet continuing demand.
Although there are many types of sustainable fabrics available, let's face it -- cotton is the king. Everyone is attracted to the natural attributes of the fiber and equates cotton with soft, rich and comfortable properties. The natural progression is for consumers to demand organic cotton. It is imperative to understand exactly what you are purchasing by assuring that you are getting certified organic cotton.
What is organic cotton? It is cotton that has been farmed without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge, or genetic engineering. This system of farming strives for a balance with nature, using methods and materials that are of low impact to the environment. An important note to make is that the farm must be CERTIFIED. There is a three-year period that a farmer is considered "in transition" while converting the land from conventional to organic. During the conversion period, the cotton cannot be labeled as "organic cotton."
Now the question that everyone asks is, "Who is in charge?" In other words, who is setting the standards?
The National Organic Program (NOP) is a division of the USDA. They clearly define the requirements and standards for organic farming. The farmer must be certified by an independent third party agency. From that point on, the system is voluntary and it becomes the responsibility of the manufacturer to insure that the organic cotton can be tracked through the supply chain to insure the integrity. It is imperative that you know that your vendor of choice has the ability to track and insure that the finished product can be truthfully labeled "organic cotton." Monitoring systems and governing bodies must continue to evolve to insure the integrity of organic cotton as the industry continues to grow.
Organic cotton growers are helping to preserve our air, water, soil and the bountiful biodiversity of our planet. Consumers now have choices with their disposable income - therefore individuals are actively choosing to spend with socially responsible companies, practicing fair trade and sustainable business practices. This is not a trend. It is a lifestyle that is here to stay.
The information on Eco Fabrics was provided by Corporate Apparel and The organic cotton section was written for Corporate Apparel by Cathy Groves, vice president of marketing for Overland Park, Kan.-based DRI DUCK Traders, and an expert on the subject.