• Lillie Burke

Bamboo: It’s not just for pandas

Imagine wearing a shirt made of bamboo. It should feel rigid, wooden and just plain weird, right? Wrong.

Bamboo U is a Brentwood, Tenn- based company that specializes in producing T-shirts that are made of bamboo – which, surprisingly, can be a very soft, breathable and sustainable fabric.

Bamboo is a self-regenerating plant, so even after it has been harvested, it will grow back. Bamboo requires no pesticides or insecticides to grow, just rainwater and sunshine.

Jeff Fulmer heads the company. Before he began, he wanted to know that not only was the process of forming the shirts environmentally conscious, but the place where they were made was, too.

“I wanted to know that products were going to be coming from a safe place,” Fulmer said.

In this case, that place is China, which does not have the best track record for protecting the environment and the workers,

But Fulmer said he is attentive to those concerns, and he said he knows that the factory is in good condition and workers are paid the average wage for the process that begins with growing bamboo in mass quantities.

Once the bamboo is harvested, it is taken to a factory where the inner core of the bamboo is extracted and soaked in a hydroxide bath. Through the bath, the core forms a pulp, which is strung out and dried, and then woven into a rayon-type cloth.

Bamboo U mixes 70 percent of the bamboo cloth with 30 percent organic cotton, so the material isn’t quite as slick, but still very breathable.

The ink used on the shirts is water-based, enabling it to survive countless runs through the washing machine without fading. The thinner, water-based inks can withstand heat better than traditional PVC-based inks.

Fulmer said he doesn’t believe bamboo will ever fully replace cotton, but it will become more relevant as people look for more options to solve some of the more serious environmental issues.

“The environmental story will never completely go away,” Fulmer said. “It will always come back.”

Bamboo U chooses to target the college student demographic because Fulmer thinks this generation is more environmentally conscious than previous ones.

“In 20 years, we won’t be here, but they will,” he said.

Currently, Bamboo U only has women’s style T-shirts, though Fulmer wants to expand.

“We want to take our time and evolve in the right ways. We’re looking into creating men’s T-shirts, as well as women’s yoga pants and sweatshirts,” Fulmer said.

Right now, Bamboo U is sold at Scarlett Begonia on West End Avenue and through bamboou.com.

Other Eco-Friendly Clothing:

TOMS produces many styles of shoes that are made with recycled materials. These styles are also vegan-friendly because they are made with no animal products featuring a canvas insole instead of the standard leather.

Soy-based fabric has become an alternative to silk or cashmere. Soy clothing doesn’t wrinkle or shrink and it is resistant to bacteria. Soy fabric is biodegradable and can be mixed with other fabrics like cotton.

Hemp cloth has been around since 8000 B.C.E. Hemp can grow without pesticides and herbicides and is not genetically engineered. Hemp fabric is strong and durable and is machine washable.

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