How to avoid trouble if using bamboo fabrics

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Aug 18, 2009 at 11:30 am / Sustainability, Textiles and Inputs / Trackback

On the heels of Canada’s change in labeling laws, the FTC is stepping up enforcement against manufacturers making misleading claims about bamboo fabric that violate labeling requirements. If you’re using bamboo fabrics or blends and making similar claims, you’ll need to change your labeling and marketing practices quickly. The FTC has charged four firms -the tip of the iceberg- with violating the Textile Act by, in part, labeling rayon products as “bamboo”. Legally and technically, fabric made of bamboo is rayon and must be labeled as such. [The FTC will permit companies to label products as “rayon made from bamboo,” if one can prove it… and supplier dishonesty is a topic best left to another day.]

I think confusion has risen because considering the context, it’s common to label fabric products according to basis of component fibers used in them. Such examples are cotton, silk, linen, wool etc. The difference with rayon is that although it is a natural cellulose based fabric (made of wood, bamboo and even cotton lintner), it is man-made -but man-made fabrics are not labeled according to ingredients. For example, just as you don’t see “petroleum” listed on the care labels of polyester products, you won’t see “wood” listed on the care labels of rayon products.  Therefore it holds that rayon made of bamboo must also be legally labeled as rayon. Also consider the example of lyocell, another cellulose based rayon-like fabric. Lyocell is the generic name while Tencel is the brand name. Products made of Tencel must be labeled as lyocell on care labels to comply with FTC regulations. In some ways, it might be easier to define rayon as a process rather than a product.

The FTC enforcement action is intended to hold producers accountable and to reduce consumer confusion over greenwashing. Here’s the gist of it:

The Federal Trade Commission has charged four sellers of clothing and other textile products with deceptively labeling and advertising these items as made of bamboo fiber, when they are made of rayon. The complaints also charge the companies with making false and unsubstantiated “green” claims that their clothing and textile products are manufactured using an environmentally friendly process, that they retain the natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, and that they are biodegradable… The FTC also charges three of the companies […] with violating the Textile Act and Rules by advertising or labeling their products without disclosing where the products were manufactured… The proposed orders do allow the companies to describe their products as “rayon made from bamboo,” as long as this is true and can be substantiated.

The FTC has provided guidance to manufacturers which will be useful to amend your labeling practices. In any event, not labeling where your products are manufactured is a big no-no. I can’t count the number of companies on the web who do not list the country of origin in the descriptions for individual items on the catalog pages of their websites.

Why this matters
The FTC is concerned that consumers are being misled by greenwashing. Although rayon is a natural but man made fabric, rayon production is highly toxic (Avtex, the largest EPA Super Fund clean up site was a rayon plant). Of all the fabrics in the rayon family, lyocell is considered to be the most eco-friendly because Lenzing, the firm that manufacturers lyocell, has a certified closed loop system. While many bamboo producers claim they use a closed loop system, the claims are dubious for two reasons. The first is that lyocell is a proprietary process patented by Lenzig which has not licensed the process to any bamboo producers. Secondly, while it’s possible bamboo producers have developed their own proprietary closed loop processes, no firms to date have permitted inspectors on site to verify these claims.

Claims of bamboo superiority are widespread on the internet and must be critically considered. For example, one site attempts to make the case for bamboo (rayon) by comparing it to cotton when a fairer comparison is to compare bamboo rayon to regular rayon. In truth, the only advantage appears to be that bamboo is quickly replenished but caveats (below) abound. Regardless, this advantage is comparatively negligible because regular rayon is made of wood recycled from lumber processing. Another site bolsters their claims of bamboo’s lower toxic load by employing a bait and switch, launching into a description of the lyocell process that is not (yet) used in bamboo rayon production. Unless one reads carefully, one can be easily misled to believe bamboo rayon production is less toxic and superior to regular rayon or cotton production and this has yet to be proven.

Examples of questionable claims:
Claim: Organic bamboo fiber clothing is naturally anti-microbial… It …prevents bacteria from cultivating on it.
Fact: Rayon, regardless of input (wood pulp or bamboo) and whether organic or not, doesn’t mildew as easily as some other natural fabrics. If “anti-microbial” is intended to convey the characteristic of preventing bacteria growth (mildew resistance), then this would be true -of all rayons, not just bamboo.

Claim: Bamboo apparel is thermal regulating, anti-fungal, anti-static and will keep you cooler, drier, warmer and odor free.
Fact: This is characteristic of rayon, regardless of whether made by wood or bamboo.

Claim: Bamboo is grown without pesticides.
Fact: Trees used to make rayon are also grown organically without pesticides. The only trees sprayed with pesticides are fruit and nut trees and this wood is not likely to be used in rayon production because the lumber harvested at the end of the tree’s life cycle is highly coveted. Fruit and nut lumbers are used in expensive furniture, veneers and consumer products. Furthermore, it is not possible for residual pesticides to remain in the fiber at the end of the rayon process.

Claim: Bamboo is hypoallergenic, breathable, and absorbent.
Fact: Again, true of all rayons.

Claim: Growing bamboo improves soil quality and helps rebuild eroded soil. The extensive root system of bamboo holds soil together, prevents soil erosion, and retains water in the watershed.
Fact: This is also true of trees used to make rayon.

Claim: Bamboo grows naturally without the need for agricultural tending and large diesel exhaust-spewing tractors to plant seeds and cultivate the soil.
Fact: Also true of trees used to make rayon.

Claim: Bamboo fabrics and clothing can be manufactured and produced without any chemical additives
Fact: This is wildly untrue of any rayon regardless of the material used for the cellulose base.

Claim: Bamboo grows rapidly and naturally without any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
Fact: On the face of it, this is all true. As a practical matter, the rise of bamboo’s popularity has led to the hazards common to commercialization. For example, clearing vast tracts for bamboo production has contributed to deforestation, rendering a mono-culture at the expense of biodiversity. Similarly, acreage formerly used for food production has given way to bamboo cultivation. What’s more, herbicides are increasingly used to reduce competing foliage.

Summary:
The point of this discussion is not whether you should use rayon whether made of bamboo or anything else because rayon has many desirable properties, but that rayon made of bamboo should be labeled and marketed according to the law. However, if your purchasing decisions are motivated by sustainability, experts agree that hemp and organic cotton are better alternatives to rayon.

Sources and more information:
Rayon – The Multi-Faceted Fiber
History and process description of rayon

Forum discussions:
Canada, Bamboo and Rayon
Cupra/Cupro Fabric
Organic Fabrics
Bamboo Fabric

31 Responses to “How to avoid trouble if using bamboo fabrics”

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Marguerite Swope
August 18th, 2009
1:33 PM

Fascinating!

Thank you.

Marguerite

Alison Cummins
August 18th, 2009
1:59 PM

Thanks, Kathleen!

I know this is off-topic, but could you do cold-light-of-day reviews of the sustainability and enviromental impact of different fibres? Let’s say we have rayon covered today, then another instalment could cover wool or linen or polyester or silk?

(Alison “Give ’er a centimetre and she takes a kilometre” Cummins)

Kaaren
August 18th, 2009
2:15 PM

I presume this also applies to NatureWorks PLA ( Polylactic Acid ) also know as Corn fibers and and Soy Fabrics all of which claim to be manufactured in a closed loop system but do not seem to offer evidence of same. In fact it is very difficult to follow the manufacturing process.

One comment I found following a trail of links describes the closed process as :
“Soy is made from the cake that is the byproduct of food production. In other words, soy fabric closes the loop on soy, as the byproduct would otherwise be waste.”

That does not define a closed loop manufacturing cycle.

There is much misinformation and carefully scripted marketing. There is a good reason Patagonia did not continue it’s relationship with Cargill-Dow for Corn PLA after investing much time and money in the project. Do your research carefully. Rayons are wonder fabrics but not all marketing represents reality.

Kaaren

Kathleen
August 18th, 2009
2:34 PM

We’ve already done cotton (organic vs commercial), I’d have to pull in some outside authorities and then do fact checking. I’ll ask if Barbara could do hemp.

Seriously tho, my greater concern is the idea that people -whether consumers or producers- can buy their way into sustainability. You can’t. Sustainability is conservation and you can’t spend to conserve. Like I keep saying to the point of making myself unpopular, if people really, truly cared about the impact of their consumption habits, they’d make the personal decision to become vegetarians. That has greater impact on reducing planetary resources than buying organic, driving a hybrid and going off the grid -combined. Sacrifice means sacrifice, but few want to sacrifice their dietary habits. They’d rather buy their eco credentials and label that spending “sacrifice”. I’m not saying that responsible purchasing doesn’t help, only that there are far more effective ways to have an impact without arm waving.

As far as manufacturers are concerned, it matters a whole lot less whether you buy sustainable fabrics than it does to produce to order. If somebody is producing quantities of tees in organic cottons or bamboos in advance of orders -as most of them are- it doesn’t matter if their fabrics are blessed by saints and woven by fairies, they are not as sustainable as someone producing polyester or synthetic based items to order. It’s a matter of priorities and people prefer to signal. People signal their commitments by driving hybrids, manufacturers signal by plastering eco labels everywhere but what I want to know is, what’s your inventory? How much of that will you end up selling in the off price market or dramatically reduced because you have an over supply? How many farmers are displaced, their children going hungry due to artificial price supports paid to US cotton producers? How many people making clothes for their own domestic market in 3rd world countries are put out of work because our overproduction is donated or sold for pennies and shipped there? In sum, a lean manufacturer even one using synthetic materials can’t signal and thus garner public adoration and accolades even tho they are the more ecologically and economically responsible party. Like I said, if you care about sustainability, you can only get there through conservation practices, not spending.

Eric H
August 18th, 2009
6:31 PM

Look Alison, you know those three kids that taunted that tiger in the zoo last year? Let sleeping hippies lie, that’s all I’m saying, okay? Okay.

Kite
August 18th, 2009
9:36 PM

Wow, Kathleen, that’s a really powerful statement. *applauds* And makes me want to do a whole lot of quantitative research on sustainability. I agree about vegetarianism – or if people who wanted to eat meat could indulge once a week, and preferably the same for dairy! – and get their protein from vegetable sources the other six days. Thinking locally, most of Australia’s landmass is taken up with farming cows – they are even let into some of our most ecologically sensitive national parks to trample and feed – imagine if that land was allowed to be wild and 100% traditionally owned. Also, imagine the greatly reduced greenhouse emissions – cows are a significant global warmer!

It’s a sad fact that fashion, which is much more about desire than practicality (how many pieces of clothing do we really need?), taxes resources. Yes, I don’t think we should be kidding ourselves that “green” consuming reduces consuming. Sure, I think there’s a place for green products – as the world needs to move towards more efficient practices – and investing in them makes them take up a bigger slice of the market – but as you say, that’s low down on the ordered list of effective impacts we can make as an individual. Capitalism will naturally push people towards “green” consumption rather than *less* consumption as the solution, but we really really need to do far more of the latter – stuff the dictate of mandatory positive economic growth at all costs.

Veeeeery interesting about bamboo and rayon in general, thankyou for that comprehensive article. Definitely will trigger me to do more research, and I’ll look into hemp in more detail. I’m imagining how I’d present my shop if I were to open on Etsy – my jewellery is largely made from found objects – how I’d market my complementary clothing. I really don’t want to use mostly recycled cut-up clothing as it doesn’t inspire me – sorry world! – but I feel an urge to be honest about the sources and impacts of the fibres I use – as well as talking about lean manufacturing. However – that could really drive people away because it’s all a bit too much! So, how honest can a business be about the fact that no fibre or new clothing is optimum environmentally? And then there’s the business of buying supplies from overseas, and selling overseas too, to add to the carbon miles!

Kathleen
August 19th, 2009
7:55 AM

Eco-Textile News (dedicated to sustainable fabric production) published a blurb on the FTC crackdown in this morning’s newsletter. They say they’d been trying to make these points about bamboo processing since 2007. One tidbit of info I didn’t know:

Ecotextile News also understands from research done by a major fibre producer that heavy metals such as lead have also been found in bamboo viscose samples from China, a result of out-of-date processing equipment.

…which can be bad news for our people producing kid’s products since so much bamboo comes from China.

Anaka Narayanan
August 19th, 2009
9:29 AM

Thanks for the informative post. I always get annoyed by fabric retail outlets that sell “Cotton Silk” at really cheap prices. What they mean by “cotton silk” is that it is a blend of cotton and polyester silk. How is that silk? Exactly. People don’t pay attention to how a fabric feels or the process, they just go by the name.

Paige
August 19th, 2009
11:54 AM

Thanks for the information, all valid and true. And I especially appreciate your comments about the over-production and waste inherent to our current large scale manufacturing practices.

But in defense of bamboo, shouldn’t we at least consider that this plant is much more “sustainable” to grow than say trees or soy. And that we could consider rayon from bamboo more “sustainable” than other rayons on account of the inherent qualities of the plant compared to other rayon sources?

I believe that just because rayon is rayon, technically and legally, that doesn’t mean all rayons are created equally. The source of the cellulose and how that was produced is supremely important in the quest for sustainability.

I’m afraid that this FTC move will cause people to overlook the benefits of using bamboo for rayon fabrics.

For example:

1.Bamboo, a renewable resource, is the fastest growing plant in the world – growing as fast as 47.6 inches in a 24-hour period. Bamboo can be selectively harvested every year after 7 years, compared to 30 to 50 years for trees, and bamboo regenerates without replanting. With a 10-30% annual increase in biomass versus 2-5% for trees, bamboo can yield 20 times more timber than trees on the same area.

2. Bamboo tolerates extremes of drought and drowning, generates 30% more oxygen than trees and is considered a critical element in the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

3. Bamboo helps mitigate water pollution due to its high nitrogen consumption, making it
a solution for excess nutrient uptake of waste water from manufacturing, livestock farming and sewage treatment.

celeste
August 19th, 2009
3:45 PM

I have seen those claims connected quite frequetly with bamboo fabrics, which are very popular in cloth diapers. So all bamboo products fiber contents need to be listed as rayon? but then can it be labled as rayon derived from bamboo? And this applies to bamboo blends as well? as most are bamboo, (or even sometimes listed as organic bamboo), organic cotton, and then usually 3% polyester. I know poeple who once they comply by switching the fiber content, would loose sales, becuase the average person isn’t going to know that its made from the bamboo that they want.

also, and perhaps I read the eco textile news article wrong, but there are two types of bamboo fabric?

There is some bamboo that is manufactured in the US, as in the yarn is spun/milled into fabric here ( now I wonder where and how the yarn is made).

I did once watch a show that said shipping eco friendly products to the US can ofset any of the good of using a sustianble product. And, i do know someone that wont use bamboo becuase of the maufacturing process, which I am also now curious about, as it seems that perhaps people are sugar coating this to get at peoples willingness to “help the enviornment”.

ah once again, very imforamtive, but alot to digest and think about……..

Dawn B
August 19th, 2009
3:54 PM

Agreed, Celeste. As a cloth diaper seller this really bites, because consumers are going to be really confused when the product description suddenly says rayon instead of the bamboo they are looking for, and who will stick around to read the explanation as to why?

It does seem that what the rayon is made from matters, otherwise why would the bamboo rayon be so incredibly soft and wonderful?

Edie
August 19th, 2009
6:34 PM

Yikes, this means a major overhaul of my site. I asked my supplier about the fabric he has sold me since 2004 which were just labeled bamboo. Are they rayon or viscose–he doesn’t know.

So, should I just label everything as rayon from bamboo? I will read the FTC link you sent looking for clues. Additionally, I understood it to be allowable to label items as made from imported fabric. Must it now be labeled Made from fabric made in China?

Invaluable as always!

Eric H
August 19th, 2009
6:42 PM

“But in defense of bamboo, shouldn’t we at least consider that this plant is much more “sustainable” to grow than say trees” … ?

No. Trees, or what we used to call forest, are not a monocrop. Nobody is forced off their land to grow wild forest.

Also, as was mentioned in the article, there is the very, very unsustainable processing. You don’t weave unprocessed bamboo stalks into diapers. Here’s another example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayon#Production_method

All of those by-products on the right sides of the equation have to go somewhere.

Janet
August 20th, 2009
2:33 AM

Eric said: “No. Trees, or what we used to call forest, are not a monocrop. Nobody is forced off their land to grow wild forest.”

Not much “wild forest” left in the US. And you bet people were forced off their lands, where monoculture forests are now grown! Here in in redwood country, they are planting redwoods in rows, and many native Americans are living in reservations and struggling for rights.

I knew these extruded fibers were rayon from the start. I have been telling people to look out, that it isn’t as green as touted. Glad that this information is out, and that manufacturers are being set to task.

celeste
August 20th, 2009
7:20 AM

I just got an email stating the bamboo i buy is made on a closed loop system, that its certifed organic bamboo, that only one place in china makes the bamboo fibers (is this true?). I should call it viscose (not rayon), and that its all been Oex Tex certified.

I use bamboo, (for personal use)……but If I wanted to sale a product how can I take their word for it? I’m just buying from a supplier not the manufacturer…..

Pat C
August 20th, 2009
8:56 AM

Thank you, Kathleen. I’ve always been skeptical about the green claims for bamboo, but never read any analysis of them until now.

JulieT
August 20th, 2009
10:05 AM

Just wrote an article myself on rayon-process fibers, and one of my readers pointed me here. Excellent discussion of the advantages and disadvantages. Thanks!

Mike C
August 20th, 2009
2:46 PM

No. Trees, or what we used to call forest, are not a monocrop. Nobody is forced off their land to grow wild forest.

Actually, in many places in the country, timber is grown almost exactly like a regular farm – except with longer growing times.

All of the land around my grandfather’s lodge was owned by timber companies. Occasionally, they would spray to kill all of the trees they didn’t want, clear cut the rest, and then replant with what they did want. Between harvests, they leased the land to hunt clubs to use.

What land wasn’t used for timber was farmed for corn & soy.

christinajoset
August 20th, 2009
5:34 PM

i found this article very informing. i believe that we consumers so often believe whatever is in print, whether minimal or vastly explanatory. i have always enjoyed spinning natural, lusterous fibers into yarn or buying materials or clothing of the same nature & quality. it is dismaying to find out that we get fooled so much of the time. a clever twist of a describing word & we want the thing described. thank you so much. information is knowledge & knowledge is power…christina j.

Kim Rosas
August 21st, 2009
12:14 PM

Great article, I couldn’t have put it any better. I think many cloth diaper lovers never wanted to think of the process by which their beloved “organic bamboo velour” diapers were made, I being one of them.

Now that this is coming to light I think hemp will gain popularity in the cloth diapering community, and the makers of diapers will follow suit my offering more hemp products.

I have quoted your claims and facts in an article along with a link back to this post. It isn’t posted yet so if you do not wish to be quoted or only wish to be linked please let me know, although I hope you will allow it. It was such a great list I couldn’t make a better explanation myself!

-Kim

sfriedberg
August 21st, 2009
6:15 PM

Just a side note on rayon and viscose. First I am going to say something about chemistry, and then I am going to say something about the labeling rules.

Rayon is made from artificially digested cellulose. There are many different methods for doing the digesting, and some of them lead to noticeably different fibers. Viscose processing is one way to make rayon. All viscose is rayon, but not all rayon is viscose! (That was a chemical statement, not a legal statement.) For example, Bemberg is rayon made from the cuprammonium process, not the viscose process.

It is a matter of law, not chemistry, which of those regenerated cellulose fibers are considered generic fibers. A generic fiber name is what you are required to use on your garment labels. At one point, all of the methods produced something labeled as “rayon” in the US. Decades ago, the “acetate” fiber was promoted out of the “rayon” group and given status as a generic fiber. Much more recently, “lyocell” was given status as a generic fiber.

The US rules do not list “viscose” as a generic fiber, but _will_ allow its use because the ISO rules _do_ treat “viscose” as a generic fiber. This is a sort of labeling reciprocity, I guess. I don’t know whether ISO and the European Community treat “rayon” and “viscose” as distinct generic fibers, or if “viscose” is simply the EC name for “rayon”.

AJ
August 22nd, 2009
12:50 AM

I am SO happy to hear this! I recently moved to Europe from Vancouver. While I was in Vancouver, especially the last 2 years, “eco” bamboo was HUGE. There are so many small designers that base their entire business on the fact that they are eco and use bamboo jersey. Besides the annoyance of dozens and dozens using exactly the same fabric, it always made me very angry that these designers never actually did any of the research on their fabrics themselves. They simply bought into the hype and parroted what they were told. It takes only 5 minutes on google to discover that most bamboo-based fabric is not “eco” at all but is instead, as you said, rayon. There is one designer, the owner of Red Jade, that has her stuff together. She did a presentation at my school and explained in detail how you have to do your own research because most bamboo fabrics are rayon but that it is possible to get bamboos that are eco-friendly. I just never understand how a designer who has apparently gone through school could pick up one of those bamboo jerseys that were soooooo soft, and then a pair of much more natural feeling hemp pants and not even suspect that the bamboo was not in it’s natural state. But naivety aside, my biggest problem is with designers that don’t do their research on their fabrics and then swears up and down that their fabric is eco-friendly because the supplier said it was and that’s what they’ve read. That’s just plain ignorance.

Annie Littlewolf
August 22nd, 2009
4:53 AM

I am a sewer, but not to the degree I am a knitter. My local yarn shop has gotten in some “bamboo” yarn. I bought a skein yesterday to make some dishcloths with. The label says:
45% cotton, 30% bamboo,17% linen, and 8% nylon. And it says “made in Italy” for a certain designer. So I am not sure at all of what I bought. That is a lot of stuff in one yarn. I’ll use it up, but will now be more careful of what I buy. This has been an eye-opening discussion for me. I’m going to print it out and give it to my Local Yarn Shop’s owner. Or better yet, just forward the whole thing to her. Thanks for giving us a look at the bigger picture.
Annie L.

Marie-Christine
August 24th, 2009
6:28 AM

Thanks Kathleen, I knew this but hadn’t seen it explained so clearly in one spot… As usual, we count on you to separate the chaff from the rayon :-).

I think the plight of the poor ‘well-meaning’ cloth diaper manufacturers is a bit overdone… They could have been honest about the processing of the fabric all along. After all even putting double-knit polyester on your baby’s butt is clearly more ecological than any sort of disposable. If the manufacturers have chosen to overlook all the info that has been available for years about the real ecological status of bamboo rayon, and to hype the fabric instead of the product, they shouldn’t wonder their customers are disillusioned and unhappy with them. Very small violins..

I’m only sorry that some disillusioned consumers about this fabric lies will mean that some people give up on any effort to make the best ecological choice at all..

I also agree with Kathleen that green consumerism isn’t a solution. I’m in France at the moment, where green is in (stop laughing, German readers, it affects you too). The upshot? Everyone is rushing to buy new ‘ecological’ products, many of them from generic bamboo rayon, most of them dyed a subdued green.. It’s a uniform. Meanwhile, the landfills overflow with discarded perfectly good clothes that don’t reflect enough the sensitivity and political consciousness of their previous owners (higher than yours of course). Suggest to a French woman that wearing out last year’s t-shirt in last year’s color might be more ecological, and you get a wounded doe look that implies that you’re a fanatic trying to turn her into a vegetarian or something :-).

Thank you sfrieberg for the info about rayon vs viscose. All I knew was that I’ve only ever seen ‘viscose’ in Europe, never ‘rayon’, or in the US on snobbish fake-European products.

And Annie, sorry but yarn is really spun in Italie about as often as it’s hand-ground from raw bamboo… For a long time that mostly means that it’s labeled by an Italian company, and I have heard eyewitness reports of ‘made in Italy’ yarn piled up in Chinese factories..

Green Earth Bamboo
August 26th, 2009
2:49 AM

Kathleen,
Commencing forth with extensive research on bamboo fabrics was a necessary task prior to launching our online store. Since the FTC witch hunt began…I have spent many more hours researching the specific complaints issued by the FTC. In addition to the research aspect of things, I have also visited many, many sites that have either repurposed the content or have actually interjected their thoughts on the issue. Many of these sites are mainstream media outlets. What I discovered was really quite disturbing to me. It has made me rethink my own naivety. Perhaps it is human nature for some of us to make the assumption that if a government agency tells us something…it must be true and accurate. (at least the ones that aren’t perceived to be run by politicians). Quite honestly, I have yet to find a single journalist that has done any kind of comprehensive research, and presented the black, white and grey of this issue, in its totality. That said, I commend you…I may not agree with everything you have said here, but your post is the most well researched, and impartial one, that I have read thus far. (including the likes of the L.A. Times, etc.)
While I certainly desire, and appreciate that it is important for consumers to know exactly what they are purchasing…there is just a wee bit more than meets the eye here. I don’t want to get into a debate about the carbon footprints and/or life cycles of all the commercially available fabrics (at least…not in this post), but I would like to clear up a few misnomers:

Much of what I’m about to say, I was not apprised of until I had done much research and/or talked with people more knowledgeable than I…in this genre.
I make that statement to let it be known that I do not begrudge the average consumer their viewpoints on this issue (even when their wrong). However, I do take issue with journalists that are clearly neophytes, and have no business writing out a postcard, let alone an article for a mainstream publication.(of course, I’ve never had patience for incompetent people, that’s just me) Ok, enough hate’n.
The FTC for some unknown reason (to me), has taken a very one sided and distorted view of this bamboo/rayon issue. I won’t argue the naming of the product…the bottom line is that if the FTC says it has to be called rayon, then so be it, today. The fact of the matter is technologies and scientific advancements precede governmental standardization. This is applicable to the textile industry, as well as other markets.
In the interest of full transparency, I know two of the four business owners, and have a business relationship with one of those two. I understand that anyone reading this likely does not know me, but I need to say this regardless of that caveat: The two owners that I know…do not, and would not intentionally mislead their customers, period. They are not that type of people, and they just don’t run their businesses like that. They are people that I would be proud to call friends, and I have no interest in befriending someone that lacks character and integrity…it’s just how I roll (to borrow a line from the kids).
The simple fact is…bamboo fabric is a new product in the textile industry. It started finding its way into the U.S. market around 2004ish. There were no guidelines or *rules* on what the fabric should be called, prior to the very recent FTC witch hunt. It was imported and recognized by U.S. customs, as “bamboo fabric” or “bamboo fiber”. Additionally, regardless of the claims that bamboo derived fiber…is the same as any other rayon, is simply false. Admittedly I’m not up on all the technical jargon, but I have looked at scientific data that substantiates that *viscose from bamboo* has unique characteristics that are discernible from…say, wood derived viscose. And yes, you can view the document on my site. (I have an upcoming blog post where I will have included some of the actual data), but if your interested…I believe you can access it from the left nav bar…under “news and articles”, and then click on the antimicrobial socks case study.
I suppose that brings me to my next point–In the FTC’s mission to demonize bamboo fabric…they pointed their finger next, at the “antimicrobial” claims. The sock study that I referenced above…was done for the sole intention of determining the antimicrobial characteristics of a bamboo fabric product (In this case, socks). You can have look for yourself, but I will tell you here (in case you don’t want to bother looking at a bunch of numbers), that it clearly shows that the bamboo fabric has antimicrobial properties, well beyond that of non-bamboo derived viscose.

FTC Claims Fruits and Vegetables Are Not Biodegradable
That is the title of my most recent post. Yes, shocking…I know. Hey, don’t blame me, blame your FTC. If we take that head of lettuce in your fridge, and hold it to the same standard as what the FTC is using for bamboo fabric…then the title of my post is actually accurate (and not just a hook to grab readers). It is all explained in the post, and I believe that any reasonable person that reads it…will begin to understand why I use language like “witch hunt”.
In addition to the case study referenced above, I am hoping to have my hands on another independent laboratory test(by the end of this week)…which will also support the antimicrobial characteristics of bamboo fabric. Unfortunately the one I referenced above does not state the base material for the viscose control sample, only stating that it is 100% viscose. The current testing be done, will be utilizing a wood base viscose as the control sample.

Like my counterparts, I have made every attempt to gather and make available accurate and reliable information on my site’s facts section, as well as my blog posts. Although a self proclaimed genius, I am certainly not perfect, so if anyone finds anything that they are certain is incorrect, then by all means, tell me and I will make any necessary changes.

For any of you hardened cynics, don’t bother…you probably are not tall enough to ride this roller coaster.

Kathleen, thank you for your due diligence. Sorry about the novel, but rather than just throw up a link to my posts, it seemed only right for me to take the time to make a few of my (many) points here…as you did your homework, and seemed to have a dialogue going with your readers.
Email:doug@greenearthbamboo.com
Blog:http://blog.greenearthbamboo.com
Site:www.greenearthbamboo.com

sfriedberg
August 26th, 2009
7:06 PM

Green Earth Bamboo, I don’t think the FTC is out to “demonize” anything. There are fairly simple rules for labeling fabrics in the US. One of the rules is that the name of a generic fiber must be used, and the FTC has a list of what those generic fiber names are. You don’t get to make up a new name. The mill making the yarn doesn’t get to make up a new name.

To get a new name on the list of generic fiber names, you have to go through a formal process with the FTC. In March 2009, “triexta” was added to the list, and it took about 3 or 4 years for the petition to grind through the bureacracy. In January 2003, “lastol” was added to the list. In 2002, “elasterel-p” was added to the list. In 1996, “lyocell” was added to the list. The bamboo fabric industry, or representatives of it, could start the process of getting “bamboo” added to the list. But until it is on the list, you are not allowed to use it as a generic fiber name, and garment labels require the use of generic fiber names. “rayon from bamboo” is an allowed usage, because that phrase begins with the generic fiber name.

If you are using fabric labels that don’t obey even the most basic of the existing rules, you better expect to get pounced. There’s really no excuse for ignoring this very well-documented rule. Go here, although this makes a better overall starting point. The list of US-recognized and -accepted generic fiber names is at the bottom of that first document.

As far as the other disputes, like claims of antimicrobial action, I think there is some legitimate room for give-and-take on the strength of the evidence from various tests. One test result doesn’t constitute scientific proof. Rayon explicitly not from bamboo also has some claim to antimicrobial action, but the FTC doesn’t allow consumer marketing with this claims either, I believe.

As to viscose rayon from bamboo having different properties than viscose rayon from other sources of cellulose, that’s certainly possible. But the degree to which the characteristics of the original source cellulose is reflected in the final product depends very heavily on the exact technical details of the viscose processing used. And the bamboo mills in China are notoriously close-mouthed and vague about their processing, to the point of implying they are using something comparable to the lyocell process, when they very clearly are not.

So, I don’t think this is a witch hunt at all. I think attention has just been focused on a previously neglected part of the industry, and past poor practices are going to have to be corrected. Unsupported or disputed statements will have to be retracted until a body of proper evidence (and by that I mean quantitative, repeatable laboratory work) has been established. Hopefully, members of the bamboo fabric industry (such as yourself) will work to get that evidence established properly, and perhaps petition to add “bamboo” to the list of generic fiber names.

Green Earth Bamboo
August 26th, 2009
8:37 PM

SFriedberg,
While I don’t agree with everything you said, I thank you for your reasonable and open minded post. Trying to communicate with the neophytes of the web…makes a great case for self medication.

If you look back at my post…I think you will see that I was not attempting to argue with the whole bamboo/rayon-proper tagging issue. I am not a textile expert and I am pretty new to the textile business in general. I’m not a manufacturer, and I’m not a distributor/wholesaler. Frankly, the knowledge of bamboo fabric being described as viscose from bamboo, did not even enter my repertoire until a couple of months ago. I first read about it when Canada instituted as proper protocol. I subsequently read something about our FTC introducing the same thing here in the states. At that time…we decided to change our product descriptions.

If you take a look at my blog referenced above…you will see some pretty scary examples of the FTC’s ineptness and false accusations. Regardless of what people think about *rayon from bamboo*, when a U.S. judge uses language like “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) acted wantonly, oppressively, vexatiously and in bad faith in prosecuting claims against Mark O. Haroldsen.” I would like to believe that would piss people off. It pissed me off. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and when they lose all credibility and/or possibly go under as a result of one of our government agencies making false accusations…that just sucks. That is only one case–I’m happy email you many more cases where the FTC lost and was deemed to have provided ostensibly no evidence. What about all the cases that didn’t make the news, because the company couldn’t afford to fight it? It ain’t cheap to go up against the government.

The FTC uses language toward these companies…that would seemingly put them right up there with the guy tele-scamming your grandmother. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Don’t get me wrong…I have seen plenty of ecommerce stores that sell bamboo products, and make grandiose claims about how green the processing and production is. Or they lead you to believe that they have bamboo fabric derived from the mechanical process–Those are the companies that they SHOULD be going after.

When a company spends the money, and has tests done by an independent laboratory, and those tests support what they are claiming…how does that make those individuals of the false and deceptive variety, as the FTC states?

Again, not my area of expertise, and I get that it is not so hard to take numbers and twist them to your liking. Whether it’s U.S. prison statistics or the antimicrobial behavior of a textile.

But I submit to you that the FTC has 0 test data (as with a lot of their other cases), and there are several papers whereby 100% *rayon from bamboo* was tested against various control samples…and the numbers certainly supported antimicrobial characteristics…well beyond traditionally derived viscose/rayon.

I know two of these people, and they just aren’t the kind of people that would intentionally mislead their customer. All I can tell you is…knowing everything that I know, in my mind…your right the FTC is demonizing them.

Again…thanks for your intelligent comments (whether I agree or not)

Doug

[…] From Fashion Incubator […]

Kathleen
February 5th, 2010
2:57 PM

Two updates:

1. The FTC has put up a website for manufacturers who use bamboo rayon products and consumers who buy them.

2. The National Textile Association reports the FTC has sent warning letters to 78 retailers about the labeling of bamboo products:

FTC Warns 78 Retailers, Including Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart, to Stop Labeling and Advertising Rayon Textile Products as “Bamboo”

Seventy-eight companies nationwide have received Federal Trade Commission letters warning that they may be breaking the law by selling clothing and other textile products that are labeled and advertised as “bamboo,” but actually are made of manufactured rayon fiber. The letters, which the agency’s staff sent last week, make the retailers aware of the FTC’s concerns about possible mislabeling of rayon products as “bamboo,” so the companies can take corrective steps to avoid Commission action.

[…] that a closed loop process was used–in fact, no factories creating bamboo fabric have been verified to use a closed loop […]

Better than bamboo: Kenaf
March 20th, 2012
3:39 PM

[…] radar and you’ll be the coolest kid on the block. It is much much better than bamboo because bamboo is very chemical intensive -it’s rayon. Kenaf is much cleaner and more sustainable. Now we have to find a way to make it cool. What we […]

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