Reaching up to 35 meters tall, bamboo is the largest member of the grass family and has many advantages as a raw material for textiles.
With more than 1600 species of bamboo found in diverse climates, they cover roughly 40 million hectares of the Earth, primarily Asia. The unparalleled growth rate of bamboo and its ability to sprout in diverse climates make it a sustainable and versatile resource.
How It’s Made
Bamboo fiber is thinner compared to hair, and it resembles cotton in its un-spun form. It also has a round and smooth surface which makes it abrasion proof. Although there is a chemical way to process bamboo, most bamboo fibers materialize through a mechanical-bacterial process similar to retting flax into linen fiber.
Some manufacturers use a more natural and conventional way to process bamboo into fiber. The wooden parts of bamboo are crushed mechanically before an enzyme retting and washing process breaks down its walls. After the extraction of the bamboo fiber, it is then spun into yarn. This mechanical process allows the bamboo fiber to remain strong, thus, producing an exceptionally high-quality product. Although expensive, this method is eco-friendly and creates an impeccably durable material.
Bamboo Fiber as an Artifact
Another way of extracting fiber from bamboo, and probably the only purely mechanical process of extraction anywhere in the world, originates in India. This method became a practice during days preceding the annual festival of the Kottiyur Temple of Kerala where locals create a handcrafted bamboo artifact known as “odapoovu.” It resembles a tuft of white fibers, usually reaching a foot in length. The object materializes out of newly emerging bamboo culms, which go through a process of alternating pounding and retting for several days. The method is followed by a combing process to remove the pith, leaving cream white fibers and a stub of the bamboo, but the fiber is often too coarse to be of any further use.
Characteristics of Bamboo Fiber
The bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere in comparison to hardwood trees. In addition to being eco-friendly, there are a number of other reasons why people rave about the bamboo fabric.
1. Antibacterial Properties
Bamboo clothing naturally has antibacterial properties that fight bad odors. It’s also antifungal and anti-static. Bamboo has a unique antibacterial and bacteriostasis bio-agent that bonds tightly with bamboo molecules during the process of bamboo fiber growth. Tests conducted by the Japanese Textile Inspection Association showed that even after fifty washes, the bamboo fabric still possessed these properties, making it a healthy, germ-free, and odor-free option.
2. Regulates Body Temperature
Fabric made from bamboo fiber are highly versatile in a sense that it remains breathable during hot weathers and interchangeably keeps the wearer warm during colder seasons. Bamboo clothing has micro-gaps and micro-holes leading to much better moisture absorption and ventilation, meaning they entrap cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter to regulate body temperatures — a key feature in women’s underwear.
3. Absorbent and Moisture-Wicking
The porous nature of bamboo fabric makes it three to four times more absorbent than cotton. Since it wicks and absorbs perspiration away from the body, bamboo fabrics keep the wearer dry, comfortable, and clean-feeling throughout the entire day.
4. Soft to the Touch
Bamboo fabric has a luxuriously soft feel that resembles silk, cotton, and lush cashmere. Its naturally smooth fibers lie flat against the skin, minimizing the possibility of skin irritations. Bamboo fabric is a convenient solution to people with sensitive and irritable skin.
5. No Chemical Pesticides
Bamboo grows organically without the use of pesticides, meaning it’s naturally resistant to pests and diseases. Bamboo fabric is a better and more natural alternative to cotton — one of the most intensely sprayed crops in the world.
Uses of Bamboo Fiber
While bamboo textiles were historically limited to structural elements such as the ribs of corsets, in recent years, bamboo fiber has become a large part of the textile and fashion industry.
1. Bamboo Clothing
After gaining mass popularity as a green fiber, bamboo found a significant place in the world of fashion. The inherent antibacterial properties of bamboo fabric make it suitable for clothing pieces such as underwears and shirts. It is especially preferred for making summer clothing since it is naturally cool to the touch and gives protection against ultraviolet rays. The softness and sheen of bamboo fabric also make it suitable for fashion accessories like socks and scarves. Its breathability also makes it the perfect fabric for sportswear and the ideal fabric for infant wear.
2. Bamboo Fabric Furnishings
Today, not only does bamboo fabric invade closets, but all rooms in a home or office. Because of its exquisite qualities, bamboo fabric plays a relatively large role in the manufacturing of home furnishings. With its unique softness, strength ,and durability, bamboo fabric has made its way to becoming cushion covers, table linens, curtains, bed sheets, blankets, and more.
3. Nonwoven Fabrics
Ever wondered where some organic tissues, sanitary napkins, and other nonwoven fabrics are made of? The answer you’re seeking is bamboo. Aside from the latter, bamboo fabric is also used to create other nonwoven products such as masks, mattresses, absorbent pads, and food-packing bags. Again, this is all because of their amazing antibacterial and absorption properties.
The Final Verdict
Bamboo is a beneficial fiber, more so if processed mechanically. Its yield is ten times that of cotton without using any fertilizers or pesticides. Even organic cotton uses a significant amount of water for growing, whereas bamboo grows without the need for irrigation on hill slopes where nothing else grows.
As a natural product derived entirely from plant cellulose, bamboo fiber is also biodegradable by microorganisms and sunlight. Clothing and other materials made from bamboo are disposable in an organic and environmentally-friendly manner, which makes the fabric even more desirable than it already is.