B / Fashion

Bamboo: Bonanza or Bamboozlement?

After the first article dealing with “A” last week, it is now time to tackle the letter B. Here, opportunities abound. One could talk, for instance, about sustainable brands or, in light of the royal baby hysteria in the UK, one could discuss eco-fashion for babies. After much pondering, I decided to stick with my original plan to write about the pros and cons of bamboo. It is all the more timely as this time next week I will be in China, the world’s largest supplier of this fibre.

The first time I heard about ready-to-wear bamboo was a couple of years ago in a shoe-shop. I was trying on a pair of heels, and since it was in the middle of winter in Europe, I had to take off my thick woolly socks to do so. This is when the helpful shop assistant suggested that I buy a pair of bamboo socks – thinner, yet just as warm as their woollen counterparts and, oh, so eco-friendly!

Buy them I did – and they are still in my sock drawer to this day. However, my subsequent enquiry into their eco-credentials has revealed that there may be some holes in these bamboo socks!

To start with, there is a huge difference between bamboo the tree and bamboo the fibre. It is true that bamboo trees (or, technically, bamboo grass) grow very quickly, and use very little water compared to conventional crops like cotton. Bamboo is also pandas’ favorite snack, and who doesn’t love those cuties?

Giant panda, photo Xinhua News Agency

Giant panda, photo Xinhua News Agency

However, this is where most bamboo sustainability claims stop. The dirtiest part is the processing, and particularly the use of multiple chemicals with super-complicated names to make bamboo into that runway-ready silky fibre. If you are interested in learning all the details, check out this very informative blog by Michael Lackman.

The bottom line is, most sustainable fashion pundits, like Kate Carter from The Guardian, urge extreme caution in embracing bamboo as the new eco-fibre.

Still, it seems like too much of a shame not to explore bamboo’s potential to the fullest! Doesn’t it look nice?

Fin with MADE - Organic bamboo voile dress with recycled brass swirl ring and disk charm bracelet (c) Johann Sauty

Fin with MADE – Organic bamboo voile dress with recycled brass swirl ring and disk charm bracelet (c) Johann Sauty

Next week, I will try to find out more from the lovely ladies at Redress, a Hong Kong-based NGO with the mission to clean up Asian fashion industry. I am also planning to check out the city’s sustainable fashion offerings, thanks to their Redressing Hong Kong Wardrobes shopping guide.

So I guess this is just a cautionary tale for all of us not to get bamboozled by every eco-claim made in an attempt to capitalize on the sustainable fashion bonanza. ‘Question, question again, and question some more’ must be the ethical fashionista’s mantra!

That’s it for now, have a green and glamorous day!

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2 thoughts on “Bamboo: Bonanza or Bamboozlement?

  1. Congratulations again on this blog – a great idea and a great read! As promised, I am going to share a few ideas from my corner of the world that might interest you and your readers.

    When you do your second round of the alphabet you might chose babies over bamboo and then perhaps you could look into some of the eco-friendly Danish producers of children’s clothes. One that has come up with an idea/invention, that I find particularly inspiring is the company Katvig (with the great slogan “For the love of earth”). In Denmark, all toddlers wear snowsuits all through winter. It keeps them warm as they sit on the back of mommy’s or daddy’s bike on the way to kindergarden and enable them to play outside no matter the weather or temperature. Katvig has made a snowsuit which not only is produced from recycled polyester (old plastic bottles) but also itself is recyclable. When the snowsuit has been worn by a child (and his or her siblings) and can no longer be used, you can take it back to a Katvig store and they will make new products out of the material. You can read more about Katvig here: http://www.katvig.dk/katvig-aw12/

    In my area of Copenhagen, there are a lot of fashionable second hand shops where you can buy designer, second-hand clothes or try to sell items yourself that for some reason you just don’t wear anymore. That’s great in itself but now someone has opened a shop with a concept that sounds even greater and more fun. I have yet to go and visit this place but I have read about it in the papers and on their website (www.resecond.com). It’s a dress shop but none of the dresses are for sale! You pay a monthly membership fee (150DKK= 20 EUR) and can then swop as many dresses as you like for other dresses other people have left in the shop. In other words, you can get a “new” dress for a special event for just 20 EUR and take it back the next day and get another “new” dress. The people behind the shop also just launched an app, enabling people outside Copenhagen to join the dress-swapping community.

    Right, enough from me – over to you again and looking forward to reading about your experiences in Hong Kong.

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