Bamboo trees used to create bamboo tshirts

Bamboo vs Organic Cotton: Are Bamboo T-shirts Sustainable?

Bamboo trees used to create bamboo tshirts

This post was updated in April 2024 with the most up-to-date information and advice from our expert print and embroidery team.

Bamboo is something of a relative newcomer to the world of fabrics. It’s only recently – in the last twenty years or so – that the notion of creating clothing from bamboo has taken off, with eco-conscious consumers from across the Western world seeking it out for its green credentials. 

If you’ve never tried on a bamboo T-shirt before, you may find yourself surprised at its silk-like quality. Bamboo has a natural softness and sheen that has been turning the heads of fashion experts for years. 

Whether it’s for fashion, or for comfortable fitting workwear and uniforms, bamboo garments have defined themselves among this new generation of sustainable clothing.

It’s hardly surprising that over the years, demand for bamboo T-shirts has grown when it appears to offer such a huge host of benefits. Firstly and most notably bamboo grows really quickly, with no need for replanting, which means no pesticides or fertilisers are necessary in their production. The T-shirts themselves are durable so will last a long time and they take very little effort to wash. 

On top of all this, the fabric itself has a bacteriostatic agent called “bamboo kun” giving it antibacterial and antifungal properties – this makes it great for sports. 

How is bamboo clothing made?

Bamboo fabric is considered a ‘regenerated fibre’. This means that it contains human-made fibres, artificially made using natural foundations such as proteins or cellulose, rather than being a completely natural fibre such as cotton.

Bamboo shoots are harvested at the end of the rainy season and turned into a pulp by using natural enzymes to break it down. The pulp is then soaked and put through a filter to extract the cellulose which is then turned into thread.

Depending on how the fibre is created or whether it’s blended with other fabrics, bamboo can be categorized into the following types:

Lyocell: A form of Rayon, Lyocell contains cellulose fibre that is made from dissolving pulp and dry jet-wet spinning. This gives the fabric great moisture-absorbing qualities.

Rayon: The raw bamboo material is treated with chemicals to form rayon which makes for a very soft and moisture-absorbing fabric.

Bamboo Linen: This fabric has a silk-like texture that is very soft but can crease quite easily.

Cotton Blend: The bamboo fibre is often blended with cotton to strengthen the material. It has anti-allergen properties and is a breathable fabric.

The problem with bamboo

There’s just one slight problem: bamboo isn’t as friendly to the environment as you may think.

While bamboo itself is something of a wonder material with plenty of things going in its favour, it’s not the whole story. Yes, bamboo is sustainable to grow, and yes, it doesn’t lead to massive deforestation, but getting fibres out of bamboo is an energy-intensive process, which isn’t something that everyone considers when buying bamboo products.

While bamboo is better for the environment than synthetics, it does come with some serious downsides. For starters, bamboo starts as a tough, wood-like plant. It takes a lot of water and energy to separate the fibres and then collect them for spinning. What’s more, manufacturers have to use chemicals to soften the wood, some of which can cause direct harm to ecosystems.

Bamboo is often hailed as a silver bullet when it comes to sustainability, but it may not always be the best choice.

Is bamboo or organic cotton better for the environment? 

Organic cotton might be better for the environment

Organic cotton may have the edge on bamboo. Bamboo is certainly a step up from conventional, synthetic materials, but several factors act in cotton’s favour.

The first is the fact that it comes off the cotton plant in a highly usable form meaning the process of picking and spinning cotton doesn’t require giant energy-consuming presses.

The second is that it doesn’t require the use of dangerous solvents, again preventing harmful chemicals from leaching into the environment.

Critics of cotton often point out that it requires a lot of water to grow – which it does. But growing it in places that receive the highest rainfall can alleviate this.

Organic cotton could help farmers too

Most cotton grown around the world comes from less-developed nations. The people living in these countries, therefore, have to deal with the environmental consequences of conventional cotton agriculture. 

Organic cotton can help this by reducing damage in these countries and helping to limit people’s exposure to harmful chemicals. 

Organic cotton has another benefit for farmers too: better pay. Western consumers are often willing to pay a premium for products labelled “Organic” passing on the extra money to the producers of the goods. 

Finally, bamboo doesn’t bounce back as well as other threads like cotton, which can sometimes result in garments having a droopy appearance. Thus most bamboo clothing products have to be combined with other fibres like cotton anyway.  

With this in mind, if you’re basing your decision on environmental factors alone, we’d recommend organic cotton. If you are looking for an alternative to synthetic fibres, and organic cotton doesn’t meet your needs, bamboo may be a good option.

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Frequently Asked Questions about bamboo clothing

What are the advantages of bamboo fabric?

Ultra-soft: Due to the round structure of bamboo fibres, there are no rough edges which creates an ultra-soft material that feels like silk.

Suitable for all weathers: Bamboo’s performance is superior to cotton in all climates. Bamboo fibres have microscopic holes that create ventilation, keeping you cool in the summer and clothing fresher for longer. However, bamboo also has thermoregulatory properties due to the cross-sectional fibres which keep heat in during the winter.

Moisture wicking: Bamboo absorbs moisture quickly which is great for keeping you feeling fresh and cool on hotter days.

Is bamboo fabric sustainable?

The bamboo crop itself has many environmental benefits. The bamboo plant grows incredibly fast, approximately 12 inches per day and is naturally pest-resistant meaning that it grows without the use of pesticides or harmful chemicals.

Harvesting bamboo crop doesn’t kill the plant, the stalls can be harvested and a new plant grows from the roots, making it one of the least labour intensive crops to grow and source.

Additionally, bamboo produces 35% more oxygen and absorbs five times more carbon dioxide than other plants and is more biodegradable than other semi-synthetic fabrics. So at the growing stage bamboo does appear quite sustainable, however, as we mentioned earlier, there are some downsides that can make organic cotton a better choice when it comes to sustainability.

Is bamboo fabric good for your skin?

Bamboo is a great option for people with sensitive skin and allergies. It is naturally anti-bacterial and fights odours, keeping you and your T-shirt feeling fresh for longer. Bamboo also has natural UV protection which is great for people that are sensitive to the sun. The fabric is also hypo-allergenic which makes it a great option for people with sensitive skin.

Can you custom print wholesale bamboo T-shirts?

Bamboo can be printed or customised the same as many other fabrics. Screen printing or embroidery are the best options if you require high-quality or bold customisation.

Bamboo fabric can also be DTG printed, however, due to the fabric composition, the print has a slightly faded look. This is great if you prefer a vintage-style print but not if you require a striking and vibrant print.

Is bamboo fabric durable?

During the manufacturing process, the bamboo fibres are embedded into the fabric. The fibres do not shed as easily as other natural fibres however, bamboo clothing should be left to air-dry when possible. Excessive heat from the tumble dryer can result in your products shrinking or becoming damaged. With the correct care your bamboo T-shirts can be washed again and again without compromising its durability.

How much do wholesale bamboo T-shirts cost?

Our bamboo T-shirts are actually the most expensive T-shirts we stock. With prices starting at £6.41 per product (blank unprinted price), bamboo is almost double the price of organic cotton T-shirts. If you’re up against a tight budget, but still want to be as environmentally friendly as possible, organic cotton might be the more suitable option.

Ultimately, while bamboo may not be the eco-friendly silver bullet some hope for it to be, it is a step in the right direction, particularly when used in place of synthetic alternatives. With this in mind, bamboo can be a great choice for your T-shirts.

Think bamboo is right for you and your brand? Get a quote for custom bamboo T-shirts today. Alternatively, if you think organic cotton might be a better fit for your eco-friendly brand, you can get a quote for organic cotton T-shirts here.

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