Is Tencel an Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Bamboo Fabric?


There’s never only one side to any story. Bamboo fabric is a classic example of a product that on the surface sounds very green. Bamboo plants grow incredibly quickly, can be planted in areas unsuitable for other crops, and rarely need any pesticides or herbicides. But issues arise with the way the fibres are processed and the fabric manufactured.

The most popular manufacturing process involves sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, both highly toxic chemicals to humans, and when released into the environment. The majority of bamboo fabric production takes place in China, a country not renowned for worker’s rights or environmental respect.

Bamboo fabric may have something to learn from another material that’s been produced quietly, with little environmental fanfare, for the last twenty years. Lyocell, sold as Tencel, is a fabric made from wood pulp. Tencel and Tencel blends drape well and are used predominantly in dresses and formalwear.

Tencel is manufactured in a proprietary process by the Lenzing Group, a international group of companies based in Austria. Lenzing describe themselves as “committed to the principles of sustainable management and very high environmental standards.” Tencel is manufactured in a similar way to bamboo fabric, but with important differences that may be the solution to green bamboo fabric manufacturing.

Here’s the recipe. First, take some wood pulp. Lenzing’s pulp mill uses hardwood – mostly birch and oak – from sustainable forestry plantations. The trees are chemically pulped and bleached. Lenzing say they utilise a closed-loop process and don’t use chlorine bleach to minimize environmental impact. However, Lenzing also buys wood pulp and their website becomes vague as to what conditions their suppliers’ wood pulp is manufactured under.

Next, the wood pulp is turned into fibres through a process called “solvent spinning”. Wood pulp is dissolved in a chemical called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMNO). The liquid is squirted through thousands of tiny holes in a spinneret, forming individual Tencel fibers. The spun fibres are washed, the NMNO is retrieved from the water, and it is purified, and reused in a 99% closed-loop process. NMNO can be toxic, but much less so than the sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide used for processing bamboo. Small quantities of NMMO are actually produced in the body as a metabolite of several common drugs.

With a sustainable source of wood pulp, Tencel manufacturing has a much lower environmental impact than bamboo fabric. But despite considerate forestry practices, tree farms are more damaging to the ecosystem than growing bamboo. When natural forests are cleared for farms the local ecosystem suffers from the reduction in bio-diversity in the area. Bamboo is the slight winner here: it naturally colonises areas other plants find challenging and often grows with few other species for company, so it has less environmental impact when planted as a monocrop on a farm. Bamboo also grows much faster than hardwood trees, processing many times more CO2 from the environment than trees can.

Bamboo can be grown ecologically, and because of the increasing popularity of bamboo, companies are developing new, greener, ways to process the fibres ecologically, inspired by Tencel processing. Companies like Pure Bamboo are using new closed-loop processing methods, and hopefully more will follow.

Tencel is currently more eco-friendly to manufacture, and – depending on your standards – acceptably eco-friendly to grow. But bamboo fabric has the potential to be a true eco-friendly cloth.

For more on Tencel, What is Tencel on Wisegeek.

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This post was written by one of Green Cotton’s contributing writer’s Brit.

Pangaya: Pioneer of Online Green Apparel to Close


After four years of serving the e-commerce marketplace, Sean and Susan Bartlett recently announced that they will be closing up their Pangaya online shop. According to a correspondence with TreeHugger, the reason is that the company is not returning as much on their investment at this point, as hoped. The company will be missed by many, as a convenient, reliable source for some of the most fashionable, sustainable designs out there: e.g. Stuart and Brown, Ecoganik, Blue Canoe, UNDESIGNED, and others.

While on the one hand, statistics indicate that demand for organic cotton, and organic fibers such as bamboo, in general keeps increasing, the reality is that the green apparel market is still challenging to be profitable. Given the myriad of style, brand, price, convenience and other variables that factor into women’s clothing choices, it is no small feat to get that equation right for on-line shoppers. Being green, does not indicate sure fire success, and even being stylish does not, as Pangaya has proven.

Pangaya is a good example of a company that provided very stylish clothing at a very reasonable price in a convenient manner. If they could not create a sustainable business model, then what does this mean for others starting out or already in the early stages? Time will tell, but as demand for all natural fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, soy, hemp and even organic silk and wool, increases, hopefully new companies will continue to enter the market and prove otherwise. We must thank Susan and Sean for carving the brave path with Pangaya, making it easier for others to follow in their footsteps.

All inventory will be marked down up to 80% until it is depleted, so buy your favorite designs now at Pangaya.

Bamboo Quiz Winners Announced

The first person to get all three questions right goes to Nathan Rosquist!

  1. Tencel (e.g. brand Lyocel)
  2. Processing with harmful chemicals. For more information, click here.
  3. Jonano


Nathan Rosquist

Nathan is as a graphic designer and web-developer at the Interra Project, a nonprofit based in Seattle. Interra Project brings tools for communities to “shop locally and share locally.” Right now they are launching a community loyalty program in the Puget Sound ( that gives back to nonprofits whenever people shop at participating local and sustainable businesses. They launched in Boston last year (

Nathan is also in his final year of grad school, getting an MBA in Sustainable Business (with a concentration on Sustainable Community Economic Development) from Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Nathan is in the process of starting a screen-printing business and is passionate about the idea of “Locally Grown Clothing.” Nathan states that ‘the local food movement has grown deep roots in the last few years here in Seattle, and [he’d] like to frame clothing in the same way. ” He posits that clothing is part of the food system…(which I would have to agree). Nathan would someday like to wear a stylish shirt made from Bamboo grown in and around Seattle, or BC hemp, or Cedar bark. Nathan is actively pursuing this path to see how far he can take it. Good luck Nathan!

Check out Nathan’s blog at


Last week’s questions:

1) What fiber is the closest to bamboo in terms of processing?

2) Name one reason why bamboo may not always be environmentally friendly to process?

3) Name one company that sells 100% bamboo clothing?

Last week’s complete quiz question post, click here.

SF Green Festivals


The SF Green Festivals (Nov 9, 10, 11) promises an amazingly packed weekend with hundreds of green companies gathering for the expo, plus an array of inspiring guest speakers such as Deepak Chopra, Sharif Abdullah and a number of prominent green authors. It should be a remarkable event. I am heading to San Francisco tomorrow and I won’t be writing again until Monday so have a great weekend and stay tuned for some news on the Festival next week. Results from this week’s quiz will also be revealed on Monday– stay tuned!

clipped from

Welcome to the San Francisco Green Festival

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This Weeks Eco-Fashion Quiz – Take it Now!

Theme of the Week: BAMBOO

Three Questions:

1) What fiber is the closest to bamboo in terms of processing?

2) Name one reason why bamboo may not always be environmentally friendly to process?

3) Name one company that sells 100% bamboo clothing?

Be the first to answer all three correctly and you win!

If you answer any one question correctly you will also be featured in the ‘winners circle’.

Email your answers to or simply post a comment.

Eco-Fashion Quiz Answers Revealed


Patagonia is the first major US company to initiate sourcing organic cotton for their shirts, and they did so in 1996. In the early 1990’s, Patagonia issued am R&D study to look at the environmental impacts of all their fabrics and processing. Much to their surprise, cotton came out the worst. As a result, Patagonia took significant steps toward making the same products (at almost the same price) with organic fibers, and eliminating damaging pesticide and excessive water use in the process.

Interestingly, this was not a demand by Patagonia’s customers, it came from within management. In fact, Patagonia did not aggressively market the organic fibers much at that time, since their customers were not much concerned with the fabrics’ source at the time. However, since then, more than a handful of consumers and companies are now cognizant of and interested in where and how fabrics are sourced. Patagonia has been and continues to be a true pioneer in the green apparel space. To learn more about their steps toward sourcing organic cotton, check out the Footprint Chronicles at Patagonia.

This week’s Quiz Winner is ricepaperslidingdoor. Congratulations ricepapersldingdoor!

Honorable mention goes to Kelven Goodridge who guessed American Apparel in 2003.

Stay tuned for the next quiz question!

Organic Cotton: An Emerging Market


Photo source: Flickr by Kamiekam

Of all the organic fibers/fabrics on the market today, organic cotton is by far the most popular. Here are some interesting and important facts about organic cotton and the certification process provided by the Organic Trade Association.

What is “organic cotton”?
‘Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production.’

National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is one third party board tasked with assisting the assist the Secretary of Agriculture in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The NOSB a definition of Organic was passed by the NOSB at its April 1995 meeting in Orlando, FL.

“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.

How much organic cotton is grown globally?
‘In 2000-2001, international production was approximately 6,368 metric tons (slightly more than 14 million pounds, or 29,248 bales), grown in 12 countries, according to data from the Pesticide Action Network of the United Kingdom and from the Organic Trade Association (OTA). This represents about 0.03% of worldwide cotton production. Turkey and the United States were the leading producers of organic cotton, followed by India, Peru, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Senegal, Israel, Greece, Benin and Brazil.

How much organic cotton is grown in the U.S.?
Based on OTA’s 2005 survey of U.S. organic cotton producers funded by Cotton Incorporated, farmers in four states harvested 6,814 bales (3,270,720 pounds) of organic cotton from 5,550 acres during 2004. This is an increase from the 4,628 bales harvested from 4,060 acres in 2003. Texas continues to lead the United States in organic cotton production, with limited acreage also planted in California, New Mexico, and Missouri. In 2005, U.S. farmers planted 6,577 acres of organic cotton. Harvest figures for 2005 are not yet available.’ Are they not? They must be available now…

How is the apparel industry involved with organic cotton?

‘Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton. For a current list of OTA members with fiber products, visit The Organic Pages Online at’

What kinds of products are made using organic cotton?

Organic cotton fiber is used in ‘everything from personal care items (sanitary products, make-up removal pads, cotton puffs and ear swabs), to home furnishings (towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, bedding), children’s products (toys, diapers), [and] clothes.’ In addition, organic cottonseed is used for animal feed, and organic cottonseed oil is used in a variety of food products, including cookies and chips.

How fast is the organic fiber market growing?

In 2003, organic fiber sales in the US grew by 22.7 % to reach $85 million, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2004 Manufacturer Survey. Sales of organic women’s clothing during that period grew by 33.6%, while organic infant’s clothing and diaper sales grew 20.5 %. Sales of organic men’s clothing grew by 11 %, and children’s and teen’s clothing sales grew by 15.8 %. Meanwhile, sales of organic sheets and towels grew by 17.9 %, and those for organic mattresses and pillows increased 8.3 percent. Participants in the survey predicted that U.S. sales of organic fiber would grow an average of 15.5 percent each year for 2004 through 2008.

Issues with Organic Apparel Certification: One main issue with certification in green apparel is that certification focuses on the farming and raw fiber (agriculture) and not on the processing. In the case of bamboo and potentially other highly processed fibers this is a critical step, and has a significant impact not only on the environment but also on the cloth that we put on bare skin, including babies and young children. Apparently a change is underway to revise the definition of organic for apparel purposes but I have yet to see the final definition and certification process.

However it appears that OTA along with NOSB and several other interested organizations are in the process of creating standards for processing as well as growing organic fibers. In fact an international working group: Global Organic Textile Standard has been working on this issue for quite some time. Key partners include: International Association Natural Textile Industry (IVN), based in Germany, as well as Social Association (England), OTA (USA) and Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA) are all members.

At the same time, OTA also recognizes that the American Organic Fiber Processing Standards (AOFPS) remain as policy guidance for OTA members and others in the organic community of the United States and Canada. What are these standards exactly and is it possible to certified organic fiber processor? It is not super clear, but stay tuned for more information as I dig it up.

Another issue is that for some, the certification definition is too narrow. By only considering the environmental impacts, the certification avoids important issues related to social, cultural and economic values. I suppose this is one reason why we also have the Fair Trade certification process, which accounts for some of those issues. I am actually in favor of keeping the two elements separate because they are separate issues, and for those companies that are both socially as well as environmentally integrated, and go forth with both certification processes, it adds tremendous value to their brand and products.

More about the NOSB:
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, part of the 1990 Farm Bill, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The board’s main mission is to assist the Secretary in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The NOSB also advises the Secretary on other aspects of implementing the national organic program.


Photo Source: Flickr by the purl bee (blue sky organic alpaca cotton)

Bamboo Resources


Photo source: Flickr by BNZ

For those interested in Bamboo: the art and science, history and culture, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

American Bamboo Society (ABS)
ABS was formed in 1979 and currently has over 1,400 members throughout the U.S. and in 37 other countries. ABS issues a bimonthly Magazine and Journal to disseminate information on the use, care, propagation and ‘beauty’ of bamboo.

There are a number of resources on this site, including an exhaustive list of potential uses for bamboo as a raw material. Interestingly, I did not see clothing on there! Perhaps the ABS would consider revising that aspect of the site with the growing innovations in the area of bamboo apparel.

Another great resource on the site is ongrowing bamboo’ planting and care to different climate & growing conditions, key issues and challenges, and helpful tips to horticulturists. In addition, there is a listing of bamboo companies in China (historically one of the major world producers of bamboo in the world, with several species indigenous to the country).

If you think ABS is a one of a kind operation, you will be happy to learn that this is not the case: there are a plethora of bamboo societies all over the world. In fact, ABS is just one of many longstanding international organizations that gather, disseminate and discuss information on bamboo as well as foster bamboo communities.

As evidenced in part by the long history of these societies it is clear that bamboo has held a certain prestige and value as a plant for centuries in many societies across the globe. What is new is the use of bamboo for apparel.

Bamboo societies are in Africa, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Japan, Indonesia, Italy, and elsewhere.

International resources

The international Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) created by the International Development Research Centre of Canada
International Bamboo Foundation
This foundation is awesome! This 501(c)3 and the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF) of Indonesia were both founded by Linda Garland, an international designer and environmentalist who has lived in Indonesia for over 20 years. With base operations on Maui, Hawaii, EBF built the first five all bamboo buildings in the US. The next eight buildings were recently approved for construction but the difficulty in gaining approval without accepted building code standards remains challenging.

Environmental Bamboo Foundation (Indonesia) EBF is an Indonesian non-profit organization with the goal to protect tropical forests by promoting and demonstrating the many conservation and development opportunities that bamboo offers. In less than three years, EBF has put bamboo on the conservation-development agenda while generating increased international interest in bamboo. Based in Bali, EBF Indonesia has affiliate non-profit organizations in America (IBF) and Holland.

World Bamboo Organization
Mission: to promote and support the use of bamboo as a sustainable, alternative natural resource through the development of partnerships and global communication, information exchange, and technology transfer.
Originally founded as the International Bamboo Association (IBA), the idea for an international coordinating body for bamboo practitioners came from the 1991 International Bamboo Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The IBA was officially established at the 1992 International Bamboo Congress in Japan.

Bamboo Processing Considerations II


**Important notice: Green Cotton has moved to a new host. For our most up-to-date posts and current blog, please visit (or click on any of these hyperlinks). You can read more on this particular post and also comment on it by going to greencottonblog.This is one of Green Cotton’s most popular posts.


By Shana

The advantage of many renewable fibers such as bamboo is that they can be grown without petroleum based toxic pesticides, herbicides and defoliates such as those that are typically used in cotton growing.

Despite the nearly impeccable growing characteristics of bamboo, there are some concerns associated with its processing (as noted in my recent post Bamboo Processing Considerations I). Since that post, I have come across evidence suggesting that there are companies currently processing bamboo in a low impact manner.

At Green Festivals in DC, I visited Jonano, one of the best eco-fashion apparel stores in my view, and spoke with Bonnie Seifers (owner and designer of the company). According to Bonnie, it is possible to process bamboo without harsh chemicals and damaging environmental impacts. Her process (obviously proprietary) does not use bleaching and is apparently organic. Jonano carries a range of organic clothes for men, women and children with a fashionable, yet comfortable look. Many of her fabrics derived from bamboo and processed into her own proprietary blend called ecoKashmere.

Further to the green bamboo processing argument, last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Envi, a relatively new eco-friendly clothing store on Newbury Street in Boston, MA. Envi carries a broad range of green apparel labels from Stuart + Brown, to Panda Snack, Twice Shy and Toggle as well as Edun.

While small, the store carries a variety of styles including some of the softest, most appealing bamboo shirts and skirts I have seen. In chatting with the salesperson, I learned that at least some of the companies producing bamboo clothing are borrowing from the practices of Tencel production and reusing the solvents throughout the pulverizing and combing process, such that environmental damage is minimized. So it may be the case that the bamboo clothes (at least those in Envi Be Green and by Jonano) are more green than originally thought.

While it is very difficult to get a solid handle on exact bamboo processing steps and components, Tencel production appears to be one of closest comparison. Tencel is similar to bamboo in a number of respects.

Tencel is the brand name for a fiber generically called lyocell, and lyocell is a man-made fiber from natural wood pulp. It has proven popular in clothing primarily because it is absorbant , soft and comfortable. It is particularly appealing in high humidity climates. Lyocell (or tencel) is stronger that cotton and rayon and does not lose strength when wet. It is frequently blended with cotton or polyester, typically in oven fabrics. It is manufactured using a solvent spinning process, but the solvent is reused so that there is little environmental exposure.

Patagonia, a remarkably innovative outdoor clothing company with one of the most pioneering green track records of the last two decades has been using tencel for quite some time. According to Kill Vlahos, environmental analysis director for Patagonia, “Tencel production is a closed loop system. All solvents remaining after processing are reused; none gone into the waste steam. Most processors won’t talk about bamboo processing. They say it’s a proprietary process. We need disclosure, and the information we get has to reveal true environmental advantages for us to consider the fiber.” Source: ‘All Natural” in Winter 2005

So if this is also the case for Bamboo, then we are looking at a much more eco-friendly product. However I dare say that not all companies are embracing the closed loop production process (without multi-stage bleaching). At Green Festivals, I asked as many vendors as possible who were selling bamboo fabrics/products, and only one of them, Jonano confirmed organic, eco-friendly processing. Others, such as Pure Fiber, mentioned that they do not have full information on the processing, since it is proprietary and done before they get the fabric (in places such as Pakistan).

Hopefully someday we will have a better certification process available that will also include the processing of these fibers. Until that time however, it is important to ask questions on the sourcing of materials and make sure that the processing meets your own standards of green-ness.


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Source: Flickr (Ewe Give Me Knits!)

Top photo source: Flickr (spiffxp)

Green Festivals DC: From Organic Chocolate to Sustainable Tee’s

organic chocolate

If you are a chocolate lover keen on organic blends, the DC Green festivals was the place to be last weekend. While I thought I was a relatively savvy organic chocolate consumer, the Festival proved me wrong with a handful of new brands in the category:

  • Alter Ego ( offers coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, quinoa, sugar, hearts of palm). This company is very cool – with an all around eco-friendly and ethically conscious approach. While I had not seen or sampled their product before the festivals I can honestly say they have a very a very solid range of basic products: from rice, to sugar and coffee and tea, all available at a fair price, organically produced and fair trade certified. They had 4 varietals of chocolate on demo, each of which were produced in different corners of the world: Ghana, Bolivia, and elsewhere in Latin America. I believe they are available in Whole Foods as well, so check them out! (On a side note: Apparently, it is easiest to produce fair trade chocolate in Latin America since the facilities are all set up, and there are several cooperatives with experience in this area, and greater enforcements for quality control, but if anyone knows of other companies that are producing fair trade organic chocolate in Africa, please do share).

  • Kallari Rainfamily (Roberto’s Recipe) Amazing new company*. From their business model to their exquisite cocoa complex notes, this company is incredible. Relatively new, yet not sold in Whole Foods or Trader Joes, or any other big retailer for that matter, Kallari Rainfamily is a family-owned cooperative located in the rainforest of Ecuador. The company not only supports the growing the cacao bean, but also transforms it into some of the most delectable chocolate I have ever tasted. If I am not mistaken, I believe the vendor mentioned they have already received requests from Swiss chocolate manufactures to receive some of their chocolate.

  • Travel Chocolate. This is an innovative chocolate company, born out of an avid traveler-chocolate lover who has merged the two passions into one interesting product. With different travel destinations on each chocolate bar, the brand is well suited for airports, travel destinations and really anywhere – that transports the interested consumer into a virtual ‘chocolate destination’ with peace of mind that all ingredients are organically derived and ethically produced. Check it out!

As for older, more established companies, Dagoba stood out as well with their panoply of flavors, recipes and aromas. Like many other chocolatiers at the festival, Dagoba is clearly dedicated to the art and science of cacao alchemy: transforming cacao beans into exquisite chocolate types and flavors. Dagoba embraces a philosophy and methodology known as Full Circle Sustainability: blending equity, quality, ecology and community.

My favorite for the day however was Kallari’s vintage 75% cacao with fruity notes and floral aroma, much like a complex, aged wine. I highly recommend sampling this bar if you have the opportunity. I am not sure where they are sold yet in the US, but will post as soon as I discover!

The eco-fashion front at the Festival was equally as exciting and thriving as the chocolate. Stay tuned for my next post which will review some of the hottest and most interesting vendors in my view as well as point out some areas for improvement, and what’s new on the fabric scene. Stay tuned!

*I believe that this company is actually a non-profit. Stay on the look-out for this brand. While not inexpensive, it is truly delicious, and also makes you feel good that you are helping the local Ecuadorian economy and supporting organic agriculture.

Photo: From Flickr by MonkeyBites

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