How Is Bamboo Fabric Made?

In a world constantly searching for alternative, eco-friendly manufacturing processes and products in a quest to save the planet and become more sustainable, Jayley is pioneering a range of new fabrics and materials that take a small step towards a more sustainable future for fashion.

Whilst in its early stages, the team at Jayley want to inform, educate and encourage their customers to choose more eco-friendly alternatives. 

In this series of guides, the Jayley team explain the processes behind their new range of fabrics, including what they are and how they are manufactured, to give you, the customer, full transparency before you invest in these new collections. 

Let’s delve into the fabric behind one of Jayley’s latest collections, starting with bamboo!

Table of Contents:

What is bamboo fabric?

How is bamboo fibre made?

Is bamboo fabric natural or synthetic?

What are the disadvantages of bamboo fabric? 

Is bamboo fabric actually sustainable?

What is bamboo fabric?

Bamboo fabric, also known as bamboo rayon, bamboo yarn, retting and bamboo linen, are collective names for textiles made from a bamboo plant. 

natural bamboo shoots

Bamboo has been used for thousands of years to make fabric, but the mass-market process has only recently been perfected. Often used to make bed linen, household cleaning cloths and clothing, bamboo fabric is loved for its breathability, moisture-wicking qualities, and stretchability. 

Some bamboo fabrics are ethically produced and fully sustainable, whereas others use chemical processing in their creation.

Bamboo is a sustainable grass plant that regenerates quickly once cut down. It is fast-growing and resilient, and when compared to trees that take decades to reach maturity, you can harvest bamboo crops within four to five years.

a lady modelling a pink Jayley bamboo faux fur coat

How is bamboo fibre made?

Bamboo fabric can be produced using several different methods. 

Bamboo viscose 

One of the most common methods for manufacturing bamboo fibre requires hydrolysis alkalisation and multiphase bleaching technology. This is the main method used for producing regenerated bamboo fibre. 

The soft inner pith from the trunk and bamboo leaves are extracted and crushed during this process. Then, this crushed bamboo cellulose gets soaked in a 15-20% solution of sodium hydroxide at a temperature of around 25•C for up to three hours to form an alkali cellulose. 

The cellulose is pressed to remove any excess solution, then crushed by a grinder and left to dry for 24 hours. A small amount of carbon disulfide is added to the alkali cellulose to sulfurise it, causing it to gel. Diluted sodium hydroxide is then added to the mix to dissolve the sodium xanthogenate to create a viscose solution (made up of 5% sodium hydroxide and around 15% bamboo fibre cellulose). 

This viscose bamboo cellulose gets forced through spinneret nozzles and into a container of diluted sulfuric acid, hardening the viscose bamboo cellulose xanthogenate and reconverting it into cellulose bamboo fibres. These are then spun into bamboo yarn and woven into regenerated bamboo fabric. 

Most bamboo fabric is made using the bamboo viscose method, as it is cheaper to produce, but using chemicals in the process does mean that it comes with some environmental impacts and downsides. 

Fabrics made using the tree cellulose process generate a lot of waste, yet this can be handled sustainably using the correct manufacturing methods. However, carbon disulfide used in the process can harm workers and the environment and is more difficult to dispose of safely.

Lyocell-type bamboo fabric 

Closed-loop production is a method used to create bamboo cellulose that doesn’t chemically alter the structure of the bamboo, so the fabric can be considered purely organic. Unlike viscose production, the solvents used in closed-loop rayon production can be used repeatedly, limiting environmental impact. 

Mechanical process

High-quality bamboo fabric is usually made in a process that doesn’t extract cellulose. Instead, a natural enzyme is applied to crushed bamboo wood fibres before the fibres are washed and spun into yarn. This silky fabric is sometimes referred to as bamboo linen, doesn’t negatively impact the environment and is durable and long-lasting. Only bamboo fabric made this way can be considered true bamboo fabric. 

Is bamboo fabric natural or synthetic?

Bamboo fabric made through the mechanical process can be considered natural, as none of its properties is altered during its creation. 

However, bamboo viscose production to make bamboo rayon renders the fabric semi-synthetic and less tensile than natural bamboo linen. Semi-synthetic bamboo isn’t as breathable or antibacterial as the raw product. 

What are the disadvantages of bamboo fabric? 

The creation of bamboo viscose requires intensive use of harsh chemicals, which negates the fabric’s sustainability credentials. However, more and more research is being conducted into making bamboo fabric through the closed-loop method, minimising the damaging environmental impact.

Bamboo is mostly exported from China, which also creates problems regarding its carbon footprint. However, as most materials are manufactured and exported globally, the environmental impact of bamboo fabric is no worse than other natural fabrics such as cotton. 

However, one of the main advantages of bamboo fabric is that it doesn’t shed microplastics as artificial fabrics such as nylon and polyester do. 

Is bamboo fabric actually sustainable?

a woman crouching down in a muticoloured Jayley faux fur coat

In many ways, bamboo fabric’s sustainability credentials are largely based on the plant’s merits rather than the production process. 

Bamboo is part of the grass family and the fastest growing plant on Earth and matures quickly compared to trees. Most of the bamboo used in bamboo fabric comes from Moso bamboo, a tropical grass plant which differs from the species eaten by pandas. 

Self-sustaining, it has an extensive root system that regenerates yearly, whilst its large root system helps prevent soil erosion. With sufficient rainfall, bamboo is self-sufficient and grows well without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. Bamboo absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide as a hardwood tree and produces up to 35% more oxygen. 

However, only bamboo fabric produced through a mechanical process can be considered fully sustainable. 

Bamboo fabric – the highlights

Bamboo is one of the most sustainable plants in the world; fast-growing, quick to harvest and fully regenerates each time it is cut down. 

However, some of the chemicals used in the processing techniques to manufacture bamboo fibres can harm the environment and the workers responsible for completing the task.

For a bamboo fabric to be considered fully sustainable, it has to be manufactured using a mechanical process that uses natural enzymes to transform the crop into bamboo fibres. As this process is labour-intensive and expensive, most clothing manufacturers buy cheaper bamboo viscose manufactured using the chemical process. 

Most non-sustainable fabrics, such as rayon and polyester, are manufactured similarly, so bamboo is no more damaging to the environment than these artificial fabrics.

As demand increases for bamboo fabric, more research is being conducted into alternative manufacturing techniques similar to closed-loop production, which reuses the chemicals involved in the process, significantly reducing the chemical impact on the environment. 

Bamboo is one of the most sustainable crops on the planet, so with further research and investment, the future looks bright for bamboo fabric as the processes to make it continue to be improved.

Bamboo fabric at Jayley 

When shopping for bamboo clothing at Jayley, you can rest assured that you will receive full transparency with every product you buy. Each of our clothing options includes a full breakdown of what they contain, so you’ll know instantly whether you’re choosing 100% bamboo or bamboo blend. 

Our bamboo products are currently made using the chemical process, the dominant technology used to produce regenerated bamboo fibre. However, we are constantly monitoring our production methods and looking for ways to improve them, and we will update our information on this should anything change.

Discover our complete bamboo collection at Jayley today, where you’ll find everything from hats to kimonos and fabulous faux fur coats.

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