The Fashion Industry’s Two Way Mirror, Bamboo

Looking into a mirror you see what is presented in front of you. In the morning maybe it’s the bits of mascara that didn’t come off from the night before or, after a night out – maybe it’s the deep red line on the inside of your lips thanks to the copious amounts of red wine you drank. To each their own, right? We see what we choose to see and what we don’t realize is that it eliminates what is also present. Bamboo is commercially known as a sustainable option for products but what consumers can’t see is what isn’t being reflected in the marketing and reputation of the textile. More specifically, two-way mirrors only show the reflection on one side and clear on the other, allowing one person to see exactly what is going on and one seeing only a reflection. Consumers view the reflection and manufacturers see exactly what is happening within the textile industry. 

Bamboo products are often labeled as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘antimicrobial’ no matter the process that was chosen for its manufacturing. Products’ price tags shaped like leaves with the words `organic ‘ grab environmentally conscious consumers’ eyes. One side of the mirror is visible for the consumer and the other side is what manufacturers and brands choose to show. The information the consumer sees is a greenwashed view of the pros of using bamboo. The positive comparisons of bamboo to other textiles are used in greenwashing while the cons are tucked behind the curtain of the fashion industry. 

Although some products may say they contain organically grown bamboo, The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which is the world’s leading textile standard will not certify chemically manufactured bamboo stating, 

“For almost all bamboo fiber used in industrial textile production, not the natural bamboo is used but it is melted and regenerated in a viscose/rayon process and can therefore not be considered as natural or even organic fiber, even if the bamboo plant was certified organic on the field.” 

Bamboo is incredibly fast-growing with self-regenerative roots and requires no fertilizers. In comparison to other raw materials like cotton, the advantages of water conservation, no pesticides, and low labor requirements to produce the textile bamboo can be a sustainable alternative. On its face, bamboo is a green fabric but what consumers should be aware of is that the process of manufacturing bamboo into soft fabrics like rayon and viscose contains no trace of bamboo at the end of the process. 

No different from cotton, bamboo requires lots of space for farming the crop. When bamboo is planted a monoculture is created which makes it difficult for other plants, insects, and animals to thrive within the ecosystem. Bamboo itself is a highly sustainable crop but the common chemical process used to mass-produce this textile is not sustainable for people or the planet. Innovation beyond the traditional manufacturing processes is how we eliminate waste and improve the quality of the environment. 

The process of creating bamboo rayon involves dissolving cellulose material in a chemical solution in effort to produce a pulpy substance which is then pushed through a spinneret which “spins” the fibers into threads and fabrics. Caustic soda and carbon disulfide are some of the extremely toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process. The reality is that a lot of textiles require a chemical process to produce thread and fabric but those harmful chemicals cannot be recaptured and reused. 

According to the MADE-BY Environmental Benchmark for Fibres, Bamboo Viscose and Rayon reside in class E. The scale starts with class A, where Organic Hemp, Mechanically Recycled Nylon, and Recycled Wool fall under. If bamboo was a sustainable textile it would fall under class A but it actually is one classification away from the ‘unclassified textiles’ such as Leather and Alpaca Wool. 

There is a light in the textile industry that can be the solution, Tencel. This textile is a class B fiber that originates from renewable raw material wood. Tencel is a certified biobased fiber that is compostable and biodegradable which allows the textile to revert back to the environment. Tencel uses a closed-loop process that recaptures and reuses 99% of the chemical solution used in the manufacturing process, something that bamboo production is not capable of. As brands use marketing and phrasing to hide behind their two-way mirror, it’s the consumer’s opportunity and right to have access to see past the reflection and support ethically sourced products.