Our Fabrics: bamboo, soy, hemp and organic cotton

Updated August 18, 2009

Bamboo: lush like silk jersey, whisper thin and a fantastic thermal regulator…bamboo fabric may just be the most perfect fabric on earth.
Some more information about bamboo as there is a lot of controversy surrounding its use as a fiber at the time of this update on 8/18/09. The controversy is about a variety of things, you can read the FTC findings here. First of all, the FTC claims that this fabric can not be called “bamboo fabric” but “rayon made from bamboo.” Rayon is made by taking a cellulose (plant-based) material, breaking it down into a liquid and then spinning that into a thread and then woven into a fabric. I’m not sure why the need for “rayon from bamboo” vs. “bamboo fabric” but the FTC thinks it is an important distinction so there you go. Secondly, the FTC maintains that rayon from bamboo does not maintain the antimicrobial features of the bamboo plant. All I know is that from my own personal experience, bamboo rags and clothing to do seem to smell the way cotton does, so it seems like its not as “friendly” an environment for bacteria, etc. Thirdly, the manufacturing of bamboo can be a toxic process if it is not managed properly, this is why I personally only buy from bamboo textiles from one company that I know has a “closed loop” process and ensures no harmful chemicals are being emitted into the environment. Also, the FTC maintains that bamboo as “traditionally disposed of via landfill” will not biodegrade, but that’s because NOTHING biodegrades in landfills. I’ve read about FOOD being found intact in landfills. That’s doesn’t mean that food won’t biodegrade. Finally, the FTC doesn’t mention this, but we are. WHERE the bamboo is harvested, and this is not just for textiles, but all bamboo products, is also an important thing to keep in mind. We try to only buy from vendors who use bamboo from managed sources, rather than clear cutting forests. Unfortunately, this information is not always as verifiable as we would like, but hopefully that will improve.

We freaking love bamboo fabric. It is truly amazing…and all this from a plant that grows like a weed without the need for pesticides or fertilizers. A grove of bamboo can be harvested about every 4-years without the need for replanting…you just cut it back and then let it grow again. It is incredibly smooth, soft and warm and is an amazing thermal regulator. I’m planning on wearing it on the slopes under my heavier gear as a first layer. Our clothing comes from bamboo that is harvested from family farms…none of it comes from tropical forests and everything is sewn here in the U.S. keeping important manufacturing jobs here in America. One thing…do not hang your bamboo clothing on a hanger. Bamboo is incredibly stretchy and will elongate to amazing proportions if gravity has its way with it.

Soy Fiber: super soft and cozy…often called “vegan cashmere” and made from stuff that would ordinarily go into a landfill…what’s not to love?
Back in the mid 1900’s Henry Ford was a big proponent of making products from agricultural fibers such as soy and hemp. There are apparently photos of him wearing the first known soy suit. But it wasn’t until 1999 that the technology was created that allowed soy fiber to be made on an economically feasible scale. The invention was awarded the gold prize by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2003. Unlike clothing made from petrochemicals, soy fiber is rapidly renewable and biodegradable thus reducing the burden on the environment. The making of soy fiber also diverts raw material that would ordinarily be part of the waste stream into something not just useful but also beautiful. We carry stuffed animals and baby clothing made from soy fiber. The fabric used for the stuffed animals has a more silky texture while the baby clothes are thicker and somewhere between a two-ply brushed cotton and a smooth cashmere. Soy fiber has the same moisture absorption as cotton but it also “wicks” better making it more comfortable and drier. The one drawback is that manufacturers do not recommend high-temperature drying as it will damage the protein structure of the fibers.

Hemp: can there be a more controversial fiber? Incredibly strong and durable it’s a
Hemp fiber is one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fibers. Not only is hemp strong, but it also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fiber. In fact, hemp is a lot like linen: the more it gets used, the softer it gets, it will last for generations, dries quickly and holds its shape. By some accounts hemp is 8x stronger than linen and even less elastic and since it grows to much greater sizes than linen. Hemp is also an incredibly resource efficient crop to grow producing more fiber per acre than any other plant and leaving its land in healthy condition with farms that have been cultivating hemp for over 100 years still have healthy soil. Hemp is also naturally resistant to mold and UV light and “breathes” well making it a great warm weather, high humidity fabric. We carry home products and messenger and yoga bags made out of this wonder fabric.

Organic Cotton: softer and stronger than its conventional siblings it also saves the environment in ways that you won’t believe.
If you have ever shopped in thrift stores then you probably already know this: cotton today is not like the cotton of yesterday. Go to any of those stores that sell $5 t-shirts and you can feel the difference. Their cotton is practically transparent it is so thin and the texture is rough. And that’s only what you can see…what you can’t see is the fact that traditional cotton cultivation uses 25% of the world’s pesticides. And for some people with chemical sensitivity, these pesticides never fully leave the fiber even after many washings.
Not just that, but the pesticides and fertilizers used end up finding their way into our waterways where they cause even more damage. According to one study, buying a single t-shirt made from organic cotton saves one-third of a pound of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. On the upside, although it costs a little more you will not believe how strong and soft organic cotton is. Give it a try, you won’t want to go back.

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