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March 19, 2021

Is bamboo clothing sustainable?

Here at Psylo we strive for sustainability. As individuals, and as part of the slow fashion movement - we’re passionate about bringing better transparency throughout the supply chain. Playing our part, we do our best to share our processes, methods & materials honestly. We also believe in inviting questions. Even the more complex ones to answer. Like; “are bamboo clothing sustainable?”

There are several reasons why bamboo is considered a sustainable crop, and cultivation in South, South East Asia and East Asia - dates back thousands of years. This fast-growing grass requires no fertiliser and self-regenerates from its own root. Meaning it doesn’t need to be replanted. So cultivating bamboo is like mowing the grass: the top part of the plant is cut, and the roots are kept intact. Making it a renewable source. Also, because the root system stays in the ground, without any turning of the soil - it helps prevent erosion.

Moreover, living bamboo stores a similar amount of carbon to tree plantations. However, while most timber species need decades or centuries to reach maturity, bamboos usually mature in less than a decade. The type of bamboo grown for crops is Bamboo Moso. Don’t confuse it with panda food! This giant species is speedy growing, taking-in 5 times more carbon dioxide and releasing roughly 35% of oxygen into our atmosphere. Therefore, it lessens the greenhouse effect. As a crop, bamboo cultivation uses far less labour, water and pesticides than other crops, especially cotton - which is very heavy on pesticides, labour and water consumption. For these reasons, raw bamboo is generally considered a sustainable material.

bamboo forest

Here we get to the tricky part. Bamboo, like other planet-based materials such as hemp or linen - have very short fibers (less than 3 mm or 1⁄8 in). So they need to be passed through a certain process to be transformed into yarn. Traditionally, this was done by a mechanical process which is labor-intensive, thus expensive. Moreover, fabrics made in this process have an uncomfortably rough texture. For these reasons, mechanically-produced natural fabrics are only a minuscule portion of our current market.

Worldwide, the majority of plant-based fabrics (bamboo, linen, hemp) produced are viscose. Also named rayon, these are semi-synthetic fabrics, produced in a method originally developed to mimic the desirable qualities of silk. In this process, a chemical is used to break the raw material into a pulp. The slurry is then extruded through a shower head-like device to create the fiber. To minimize the impact of this chemical process on the environment - the more responsible factories will use a filtering system, before discarding the waste. This process is similar to any other used for making plant-based cellulose - like for making biodegradable bags.

Now, before choosing to work with bamboo fabrics, we also consider: “what are the locally-available alternatives?”

Some natural options, like wool or cotton, have longer fibers - making for an easy yarn processing. But non-organic cotton crops are usually GMO, and involve destructive processes to the land. The majority of the current linen market is also GMO, and involves a mostly chemical process to produce its yarn. A chemical process is used for Rayon, too. Made from a mixture of wood pulp, in some cases, it is sourced illegally from cutting down rainforest. While Modal / Tencel are sourced from licensed forests only. Tencel is strictly under trademark, and uses lyocell to process yarn - a much more eco-friendly process. Polyester we all know the course and process: fully chemical-based on crude oil.

... When comparing the fabrics available to us locally - bamboo is one of the more sustainable options. Being based in Bali, Indonesia, you could say that Psylo sits at the center of the “bamboo world”. Making this material locally-available; the bamboo yarn in our fabrics is produced in China, and the fabric is locally made in Jawa.

Organic blended content standard

Although we use 100% bamboo fabric in certain styles, most of our bamboo fabrics are mixed with organic cotton. These fabrics offer much better breathability than pure cotton ones! They’re silky to touch, and are also lighter than other available alternatives. We use 70% bamboo 30% organic cotton fabric for our men’s tees. While our 65% Bamboo 25% Organic Cotton 10% Spandex fabric is used in some of our leggings styles. Both fabrics carry the ‘Organic Blended Content Standards’ (OCS), which tracks the flow of the organic raw material - from source to final product.

So, is bamboo sustainable?

We consider practice as sustainable when it can continue for 1,000’s of years. Meaning it is not a destructive process, and that overall it promotes life. As a crop and raw material, bamboo is sustainable. Most bamboo end-products are biodegradable, too. The down-side is the chemicals used in producing the bamboo fabric, although this can be better managed. While it is not the “perfect” material, when compared to other alternatives in our local market - bamboo is one of the better ones.

Adapting to sustainable practices as designers we’re balancing many considerations. Committed to the highest-quality, our fabrics are sourced from reputable factories and agents. Before reaching us, the fabrics are passed through laboratory tests to ensure their content. Our bamboo fabrics are pre-washed to prevent any twisting or shrinking. Also, working with bamboo requires the greatest attention, as this fabric cannot have a 2nd dye. So we must get the dye colour right in the first & only go! We consider these efforts worth-while, as bamboo clothing is extremely soft, light and breathable. 

You're invited to try for yourself: 

SHOP BAMBOO COLLECTION 

 

Sustainability is an integral part of the Psylo journey. We’re constantly researching for best materials, better practices and methods that push the boundaries. Doing the best we can to improve - one collection at the time. This is also a wonderful opportunity to send our endless gratitude to our customers. Your support enables us to keep pushing boundaries. Thank you.

 

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Editor’s note: bamboo forest images via unsplash.


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