Monday, October 18, 2010

Arbor - Bamboo Apparel


The Foundation Room is an ongoing blog by co-founder, Bob Carlson on the Company’s commitment to sustainable design.
I had planned on talking about the reforestation work we’ve been supporting in Hawaii with the groups True Offsets and Rock ‘n Renew, but lately there has been so much interest in the apparel we’re making from bamboo that I decided to cover this first.
As many of you know, the mission at the Arbor Collective is to use environmentally friendly, natural materials to improve overall performance and style.  Fifteen years ago, we launched our snowboard line with this philosophy.  Four years later, we introduced skateboards designed with the same idea in mind.  Then, three years ago, thanks to the development of bamboo-based fabrics, we created a stand-alone streetwear line around this same core principle.
For us, form still follows function and only bamboo allows us to deliver contemporary design attributes while offering ecologically responsible fabrications.
Today, there are no 100% “green” solutions for creating fabrics: organic and transitional cottons require large amounts of land and water; recycled P.E.T. (polyethylene terephthalate) is still a chemically driven, petroleum-based material; and many hemp and bamboo fabrics require a less-than-ideal pulping process.
When looking at the current options for environmentally “friendlier” fabrics, our choice came down to the material that provided the best blend of ecological and performance benefits.  That was bamboo; a material we’ve come to see as today’s most promising alternative.  Below are some of the facts that drove our decision to use bamboo as the principle raw material in our line.
The Ecological Benefits of Using Bamboo as a Raw Material
Renewable – The bamboo used for apparel production is the fastest growing plant known to man, growing up to 4 feet (122 cm) per day, and rapidly reaching heights over 40 feet.  Because of this rapid growth rate and the amount of vertical biomass created, bamboo is able to deliver far more usable material per acre than any other raw material available, making it today’s most renewable alternative.  Bamboo is also self-regenerating, so it can be harvested and, in most cases, will simply re-grow without replanting.
Sustainable – Bamboo cultivation requires zero pesticides or chemical fertilizers to achieve its amazing growth rate and renewability.  Hence, it is inherently organic.  In contrast, it takes 1/3 of a pound of chemicals to produce enough conventional cotton for one t-shirt.  Cotton production is responsible for 16% of the world’s insecticide use, more than any other single crop, while covering only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land.  Much of these chemicals run off into our waterways, harming humans and the natural environment.  In addition, bamboo requires much less land and water (as a ratio to usable fiber produced per acre), than cotton, organic cotton, and other alternative fibers.  In fact, it takes 15,000 liters of water to grow 1 kg of cotton or organic cotton.  Some of this water is piped in from critical watersheds, as cotton is typically grown on arid lands. In contrast, bamboo requires only natural rainfall.

Additional Eco Benefits – Bamboo propagation prevents erosion and adds nutrients back to the soil, while conventional, transitional, and even organic cotton cultivation strip the land of nutrients. Bamboo is hand picked using traditional methods that have a much lower impact on the environment than modern machine-based harvesting practices.  It’s also important to note that bamboo is not planted on cleared forestlands; it is sustainably selected from naturally occurring bamboo stands.  In addition, bamboo absorbs more carbon dioxide and emits more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees.  Oh – and the “timber” bamboo used for apparel production is NOT a source of food for Pandas, nor is it harvested from Panda habitat.

The Performance Benefits of Fabrics Made Using Bamboo
Wearable – Bamboo-based fabrics are much softer and more comfortable than cotton, hemp, or other alternatives.
Functional – Bamboo-based fabrics help regulate body temperature.  Compared to cotton, they are more breathable; provide improved wicking of moisture; and deliver better UV protection. In addition, mechanically produced and nano bamboo blends dry quicker than comparable fabrics.
Anti-Microbial – Mechanically produced bamboo fabrics and nano bamboo infused fabrics retain bamboo’s natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties.  This makes them resistant to mildew and odor retention and much less likely to cause skin irritations.
It is important to note that we work to make our efforts to replace non-sustainable fabrics with bamboo-based blends “seamless” for our customers.  To that end, we design our apparel to be washed in a manner similar to the fabrics that we’re replacing.  For example: our 70% Viscose from bamboo / 30% organic cotton blended t-shirts can be washed just like conventional cotton tees, while our nano bamboo infused polyester boardshorts wash just like other boardshorts on the market.
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about our bamboo-based apparel.  We believe it to be the best option for creating contemporary, performance-oriented, sustainably produced apparel, especially for those of us whose lives are based around skating, surfing, and snowboarding.  If you haven’t yet tried bamboo, give it a shot.  Be warned – it’s addictive…
Bob Carlson

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