When it comes to versatility, no plant on Earth comes close to bamboo. Although it looks like a tree, it’s actually a type of long grass, and no part of it goes unused. Its slender but sturdy stem – not trunk – is ideal for scaffolding and framework. Bamboo shoots sprouting out of the ground are a staple in oriental cuisine. Its pulp serves as a more sustainable alternative for making paper.
In recent years, the many applications of bamboo have also included clothing. Fibers derived from the stems become shirts, shorts, dresses, and even underwear. Bamboo fabric is quickly becoming the next big thing in the fashion industry for several good reasons. Before discussing them in detail, let’s look into the state of the industry first.
The Big Shift To Bamboo
Robin Givhan, a fashion critic for The Washington Post, writes that the industry currently operates on planned obsolescence. Clothes tend to go out of style in days, so manufacturers have to replace and replenish stocks. Any stock that shops couldn’t sell goes straight to a random landfill, unlikely to be worn by anyone—and that’s not the only problem.
With the need to keep pumping out new clothes, demand for raw materials such as cotton increases. Cotton is a water-hungry plant, with rivers in cotton-producing countries dedicating nearly all their water to grow them. According to the World Wildlife Fund, growing one kilogram of cotton needs approximately 20,000 liters of water.
One kilogram of cotton is only enough for a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Take that into account next time you plan on getting new clothes.
Faced with pressure from a growing awareness of sustainable resources, manufacturers are looking to eco-friendly materials such as bamboo as alternatives. They market bamboo clothing articles from shirts to boxer briefs as having the benefits of cotton for less stress to Mother Nature. Considering bamboo’s properties, they’re not entirely wrong.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of shifting to bamboo clothing:
1. More Bamboo Clothing Available
As a grass, bamboo grows fast—reaching up to 25 feet in less than a month after being planted. It begins to grow exponentially after two weeks, once it has reached a height of 3 feet. The reason for its fast growth is that the sprout prepares everything it’ll need to achieve maturity, similar to the grass in your lawn. Once it starts growing, all the bamboo has to do is shoot for the moon.
The speed at which the plant grows means that there is sufficient fabric produced to make mens bamboo underwear and other clothes on a mass scale. That’s why bamboo clothing brands can afford things like a subscription service where subscribers get a new product every month. It can rely on a steady supply chain that requires less time to nurture.
2. Just Like Cotton
As we learned earlier, cotton is one thirsty crop. In Australia, authorities have expressed alarm at the rate cotton farms in the Murray Darling River Basin are consuming—five Sydney Harbors’ worth every year. Faced with that figure, it’s no surprise if someone asks if there’s a better way.
Bamboo requires only a fraction of water cotton uses, and no fertilizers or pesticides. But the most significant advantage is that it’s just as breathable and absorbent as cotton. And as a study by South African researchers in 2011 discovered, bamboo kills bacteria and microbes far better than cotton. It explains why bamboo clothing doesn’t smell as bad when exposed to sweat.
It’s hard to determine the exact number of vegans around the world. Statistics vary wildly, but the best estimate is approximately 78 million.
While mostly associated with food, veganism is more than that; it also considers non-food products like clothing and the processes involved in making them. No animal or animal byproduct should be used, let alone killed, in making the product.
Manufacturing bamboo fiber doesn’t involve any harm to animals. Bamboo is sturdy enough to resist pests and other threats on its own, eliminating the need for pesticides. Treating its fiber involves some chemicals, but they are deemed safe to use in clothing. Overall, bamboo is a vegan-friendly material alongside nylon, linen, and denim.
Replacing cotton will take a while, even with alternatives like bamboo on the rise. For now, these eco-friendly materials can help to address demand for clothing, reducing demand for cotton and the water needed to grow it. Technology and increasing awareness will eventually catch up and give bamboo clothing more exposure than it currently enjoys.
What will the average closet contain in the future? Perhaps a few cotton shirts and trousers, but no doubt that bamboo outfits will be in there, as well.