Bamboo fiber refers to a cellulose fiber that has been extracted from the pulp of a natural bamboo plant. Currently, bamboo fiber is gaining a lot of popularity as a preferred form of green fiber owing to its characteristics. It is argued that bamboo fibers and the resulting bamboo products are more environmentally friendly when compared to polyester and cotton (Farnie & Jeremy 2004). This paper discusses the bamboo fiber and its usage in the fashion industry. There is also a focus on two of the designers who use bamboo fiber in the fashion industry. The properties and the environmental impact of bamboo fibers are discussed. The paper ends by discussing the merits and demerits of using bamboo.
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History of Bamboo Fiber
Bamboo was used in China 5000 years ago, long before the trend of going green developed. However, its extensive use is being adopted only in recent years. The Chinese who lived during the Chang Dynasty used bamboo to make arrows, among other items. Cai Lun of China formed the first-ever tissue paper from bamboo in 105 AD (Dodson 2012). Later, a book that detailed the multiple species, as well as uses of bamboo, were published between 265 and 316 AD. More developments followed, such as the first bamboo bicycle patented in 1894 AD. The first handbag made of bamboo was produced in 1947 AD (Braddy 2014).
One of the first things to be manufactured using bamboo was paper. However, the fibers were also used to generate other products, such as houses, needles, weapons, and other products that are usually made from wood today. The bamboo paper was first patented in the 1860s. However, none of this patenting resulted in a booming bamboo paper business due to the low demand for the resulting parts in areas with large volumes of bamboo trees and high costs of transportation of the harvested bamboo trees and the resulting bamboo products. Bamboo fiber use received a significant boost in 1881 when a technology involving the mixing of bamboo fiber and wool was invented and patented. This technology formed the backbone for today’s yarn production (Braddy 2014).
How Bamboo started to be used in the Fashion Industry
The entry of bamboo fibers into the fashion industry is credited with the ever-changing customer needs and the admirable characteristics of the bamboo fibers. Initially, clothes were mainly made from cotton and synthetic polyesters. The disadvantage of these products was that they were soft and vulnerable to damage. There was a need to get a natural product that would reduce environmental pollution due to the chemical processes involved in the production of synthetic polyester (Fletcher 2008). Bamboo fibers were preferred as the choice source of fabric. Specifically, bamboo-derived textiles were made to address the need for sustainable development by using resources that were renewable (Hunter 2003). The characteristics of the bamboo fibers made bamboo the number one choice material for the fashion industry (Fletcher 2008).
China’s Beijing University is accredited for the discovery of modern cloth-making processes from bamboo in the early 2000s. This new technology entailed the use of modern chemicals to get rid of bamboo glue, followed by the use of bleaching agents to remove any form of coloration present (Rahim & Narayan 2006). This process made it possible to generate fabrics for commercial purposes. The resulting products were highly marketed in America and other Western countries. Since then, there has been a marked increase in the utilization and marketing of bamboo fabrics. For instance, bamboo use grew by a whopping 5000% between 2004 and 2010 (Bar-yosef et al. 2012).
Focus on a Designer Using Bamboo Fibre
Several designers are now using bamboo fibers to generate various products and meet ever-increasing customer demands. Two of such designers are Jenny Yen and Tabitha Savoie of the Vancouver Fashion Designers. The two recall their first encounter with bamboo fibers, which happened when they first visited China with the sole aim of purchasing fabric. Savoie explains that urgency developed when they witnessed large quantities of smoke in the sky and saw large volumes of filthy rivers in several cities they visited. Being a designer, she felt as though she contributed to the problem because the pollution was primarily caused by the manufacture of fabrics and the shipping of the manufactured products. That is when they decided to change ways and embrace designing methods that would provide environmental pollution solutions. The use of bamboo fibers was one of their resolutions (Eustace & Sun, n.d.).
The duo developed a plan that would allow them to use bamboo fabrics while meeting the demands of customers. Since their transformation in using the bamboo fibers, the duo indicates that the customers now want volumes of their products. They say that the high quality and the eco-friendliness of their goods play a vital role in their improved market. The two also add that customers are embracing the art of thinking before shopping for their wardrobes. Clients are now focused on buying a few clothes that are relevant and highly eco-friendly (Eustace & Sun, n.d.).
The designers add that the new form of designing and the new shopping styles adopted by customers is the best for the current economy. They indicate that they love using the bamboo fibers because they are natural, as nature-inspired them, the fibers are soft and biodegradable, and the dyes used are biodegradable. The process of production is simple. Given that the fibers are soft, they can produce different sets of designs that suit the different needs of individual clients. They produce various clothing, such as dresses, tunics, shirts, and socks, among others with bamboo fibers (Eustace & Sun n.d.).
Properties of Bamboo Fibers
Bamboo fibers are preferred in the textile industry, owing to their attractive properties. The most admirable characteristic that makes people fall for the fibers is the fact that bamboo is exceptionally light and soft. These features make it cool and breathable to wear (Tan et al. 2011). Apart from being soft and light, the bamboo fabric is also highly hydrophobic. This property gives the fibers a higher ability to absorb more water compared to ordinary cotton or polyester. The rate of growth is also fast under favorable conditions, achieving the maximum growth within five years. The rapid growth rate is desirable because it guarantees the availability of raw materials (Bonilla et al. 2010).
A property that sets bamboo fibers apart from the rest is its anti-microbial ability. It also has an improved antistatic ability compared to other fabrics. It’s natural deodorizing characteristic also gives it a better performance in terms of odor (Scurlock et al. 2000). The fibers are extremely white and thin, yet highly durable and stable. Bamboo is capable of enduring abrasion; therefore, it has the desired qualities for spinning (John & Thomas 2008). Generally, the clothes and yarns that have been made from bamboo fibers meet almost all the established quality standards in the textile industry (Verna & Chairiar 2012).
Environmental and Ethical Impact of Bamboo Fibers
The extensive use of bamboo fibers is attributed to its better and desired impact on the environment due to its growth and other inherent characteristics. Bamboo is considered a sustainable resource was owing to its fast growth rate and high adaptability to multiple climatic conditions (Matsumoto et al. 2001). The growth rate and adaptation to various climatic conditions ensure the surrounding environment gets all the environmental benefits associated with the availability of trees. Such benefits include the supply of fresh oxygen to the air and the reduction of carbon IV oxide, among others (Bansal & Zoolagud 2002).
The ability of the bamboo plant to re-germinate is of high importance in environmental management. The fact that the plant can repeatedly be harvested ensures that raw materials for the fabric industry can be produced with ease without any observable or long term damage to the surrounding environment (Nirmal, Jamilhashim & Low 2012). After successive harvesting, the plant can regenerate again without replanting. Apart from the environment, this regeneration is of value to the plant itself because studies have shown that the regenerated plant had a faster growth and increased the amount of biomass (Ferrelly 1984).
The nature of bamboo growth typically eases pressure on land use. Usually, the plants grow densely, clumping with one another, which allows many plants to be grown on a minuscule piece of land. The plant can also be used as a shelter for wild animals and birds (Wong et al. 2010). The growing and grown bamboo trees ensure the balance of vital gases in the environment; they absorb large volumes of carbon IV oxide from the atmosphere and release the oxygen required by animals. Bamboo yields approximately 35% more oxygen when compared to other plants. The use of bamboo also reduces the rate of deforestation because it can provide timber, and its fibers are used in the textile industry (Xiao & Ma 2012). Furthermore, its regenerative capability ensures the plant cover is re-established.
The plants also optimize the use of water because no irrigation is required. The plant promotes soil conservation. For instance, the soil is left intact during the harvesting of the crop because no uprooting takes place. It is a biodegradable product. Therefore, they protect the soil from pollution. Further, soil and air pollution are minimized because the plants do not require the use of pesticides and other non-biodegradable chemicals during their growth (Jenkins 2003).
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Despite the listed environmental benefits, the use of bamboo fibers has come under severe scrutiny. The natural growth of the plant is good for the environment, but the processing of the grass into finished products results in pollution due to the use of chemicals (Sovacool & Valentine 2011). The plant is also dissolved in toxic chemicals along the processing stage, making it a health risk to workers and the surrounding population. It is also argued that more pollutants are released to the environment during processing. The resulting fabric is not natural, as argued, but a textile that has been generated through complex chemical processes. Finally, it is also argued that the biodegradability and the anti-bacterial effects of the bamboo fiber are lost during the processing phase (Donoghue 2013).
Merits and Demerits of Bamboo Fibres
Other than their softness, the bamboo fibers also contain an antibacterial property. In addition, the fibers are Bamboo has a desirable hydrophobic and deodorizing ability, meaning that it keeps one clean, dry, and odor-free for a long period. The fabric takes shorter to dry compared to other fabrics. Bamboo fibers make all-weather fabrics. Pesticides are not needed when growing bamboo, making it a plant that does not pollute the environment. Finally, the resulting fabric is highly resilient, durable, and can resist abrasion (Hoffmaster 2010).
The high demand of the product makes the bamboo fibers more expensive compared to other fibers, such as cotton. Clothes made from bamboo also permit the penetration of UV light and offer inadequate protection against sunlight. Finally, though the fabric is said to be biodegradable and with antibacterial effects, these properties are likely to be lost during processing with solvents. Furthermore, the solvents absorb a lot of sweat from the body; thus, they are likely to encourage bacterial growth (Hoffmaster 2010).
It is clear that bamboo has been used for over 5000 years now. The textile industry has taken advantage of the discovery of bamboo fibers. Its admirable characteristics, such as high stability and durability, soft, thin, and light, make it suitable for the textile industry. Its antistatic, antibacterial, and natural deodorizing ability makes it stand out from the rest. Bamboo is undoubtedly the preferred source of renewable, sustainable, and natural source of raw materials for the textile industry. However, the biodegradability and retention of the desired characteristics in the final product need to be investigated further.
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Images of Natural Bamboo Fibres
Image Source: (Liahren, n.d.)