About Our Fabric
Why we chose bamboo over other textiles
When considering all of the textile options for the Small Plum line, we found that using organic bamboo as the base of the textile fiber has many advantages. There are many fine qualities of the material such as the silky hand, fiber strength and high absorbency. In addition, we found many environmental benefits of bamboo, some of which are described below:
More significantly, bamboo does not require fertilizer of any kind. Fertilizers release greenhouse gases primarily in the form of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. The fertilizer life-cycle generates an estimated 2-3% of the earth's total greenhouse gas emissions. Even organic fertilizers (manure and compost), which are used to grow crops like organic cotton, have a large carbon footprint. Research indicates that fertilizers used for organic cotton release over 14 times more greenhouse gas (including embedding emissions) than conventional cotton.4
Land Preservation and Harvesting
With respect to harvesting, bamboo can be continually re-harvested with no damage to the surrounding environment. As a grass, bamboo regenerates after being cut in much the same way as a mown lawn. There is no need for replanting, and the cane is ready to harvest again in as little as one year.
Harvesting cotton, including crops grown organically, requires the destruction of the entire crop leading to exposed soils, which release carbon dioxide into the air. Before replanting, organic cotton fields must be tilled, releasing more CO2. In addition, yearly replanting may lead to soil erosion. Bamboo's root system actually prevents soil erosion by creating an effective watershed.
The bamboo we use
The bamboo used to make the fiber for Small Plum garments is certified organic by The Organic Crop Improvement Association1.
To ensure the bamboo's quality, our supplier has developed its own plantation to maintain absolute control over the crop. The bamboo is grown without any chemical pesticides, using the international organic standard of OCIA/IFOAM2. It is also in accordance with the USDA National Organic Program.
The fiber used for our apparel is made from the soft viscose from organic bamboo and is OEKO-TEX 100 certified3. This certifies that the fiber is free from chemicals that may be harmful to a human being, and contains no trace chemicals that pose any health threat whatsoever.
Turning raw bamboo into fiber
Bamboo is not a perfectly green choice for textiles, and Small Plum does not wish to present it as such. Certain steps in the processing of the raw material into fiber present an environmental concern if not completed responsibly.
The management systems at the factory used to process our bamboo are certified to conform to international standards for environmental management, occupational health and safety, and quality management:
With respect to the solvents used in processing, nearly all methods to process bamboo into fiber include the use of caustic soda (or sodium hydroxide). Caustic soda is approved for use on textiles under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)5. It is used in many industries, including the processing of organic cotton, and is common in food production. For example, German pretzels are poached in caustic soda before baking, which results in their unique crust. The substance may cause a health hazard if not handled properly.
Carbon disulphide is also used in the processing of raw bamboo into cellulose. It is also utilized in veterinary medicine, as a soil disinfectant, and in spray applications to grains. Carbon disulfide evaporates rapidly from water and soil, and breaks down in the atmosphere in about 12 days, but it is toxic at high levels of exposure. There may be a danger to workers if proper safety measures are not taken. However, when properly handled and disposed of, it is not harmful to workers or to the surrounding environment.
The use of carbon disulphide in the processing of bamboo is something, unfortunately, that is often left out of the discussion when marketers defend bamboo processing (just as it is unfortunate that much of the discussion on organic cotton is selective on the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and water and land usage).
A totally green future
It is important to note that the future of processing bamboo into fiber looks extremely bright. There is a method being developed in the EU that is a completely green cycle with no safety concerns for workers. Small Plum is currently researching this method of processing, and hopes to source the bamboo fabric by the end of the year.