Bamboo clothing is claimed to be environmentally friendly and a good choice for sporty people. The fabric feels very soft against the skin and is usually breathable, fairly quick drying and allows sweat to evaporate. (Although it’s worth noting that some lightweight merino wool products are often better for sweat wicking and drying.) I have been testing several clothing items from the BAM Bamboo Clothing range.
In the interests of disclosure, like my other kit reviews, I receive the products courtesy and write an honest and independent review. I might have affiliate links, which help me in a small way to run this website. I am not paid to write reviews, nor do I take advertising in return. My reviews are my opinion and , therefore, subjective, however I have many years of experience in testing sports and outdoors clothing so I am for a balanced review.
What is bamboo?
First, let’s look at bamboo as a product. I have read about and researched the environmental advantages and disadvantages of the fabric.
Pros of bamboo
- Fast growing so it quickly replaces any bamboo that is cultivated (some types of bamboo can grow 5cm in an hour)
- Grows in dense forests, which reduces the need for space
- Bamboo doesn’t need much water for cultivating and doesn’t require the use of pesticides
- It absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide, which helps fight global warming.
- Bamboo can be cut like grass rather than being uprooted so it requires less machinery
- Helps poor soil to recover
- Organic bamboo is 100% biodegradable
- The fabric is naturally anti-bacterial, which means you don’t need to wash it so frequently (although read the cons below)
- If ethically grown, it can help local economies.
Cons of bamboo
There are some major issues to consider. While bamboo is fast growing and requires no pesticides, it doesn’t mean that everyone is growing it sustainably.
Also, although bamboo is more sustainable than cotton and synthetic fabrics in the cultivation phase, this isn’t necessarily the case when manufacturing.
There are two main ways to turn bamboo into bamboo fabric – mechanical and chemical – and the sustainability of these processes varies significantly.
I have learned that mechanically processed bamboo is known as bamboo linen and it is made using the same process as flax and hemp linen. But it’s a labour-intensive process and also the resulting fabric is rather rough in texture.
It’s claimed that this type of process is rarely utilised in the wider industry of producing bamboo fabrics.
Far more common is chemically processed bamboo. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) reveals that to turn bamboo into a softer fabric – bamboo rayon (also called bamboo viscose) – the stems of bamboo grass are cut and soaked in caustic soda. This breaks the bamboo down and turns it into threads, which can then be weaved into fabric.
The fabric then undergoes a bleaching process. This method involves using sodium hydroxide. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the chemical as “extremely corrosive” and reports it can cause eye and skin allergies. It also uses carbon disulfide, which has been shown to cause neural disorders and affect the reproductive system.
In addition, the chemical process uses large quantities of water, which is not environmentally friendly.
To makes matters worse, the claims that bamboo fabric has natural anti-microbial properties is dismissed at this point because of what is called an “open-cycle production”. Basically, these natural benefits of destroyed by the chemicals.
BAM use bamboo viscose for many of their products.
Then there’s bamboo lyocell, which is manufactured from cellulose, which is the main substance found in plant cell walls and helps the plant to remain stiff and strong.
According to Ethical Consumer, bamboo lyocell, which is similar to rayon, is developed with a solvent spinning technique. The process involves soaking the bamboo in an organic compound, amine oxide, and then the “spinning” removes 99% of the compound.
Unfortunately, lyocell is not widely produced yet. The mills require more modern technology, including computer monitoring systems, and that is expensive.
Ethical Consumer states: “To some extent, lyocell is a compromise between profitable production and sustainability. It uses closed-loop technology, which doesn’t release production waste into the environment.
“Instead, some parts of it are being filtered and reused.”
The CFDA believes bamboo lyocell is an “optimal choice”. And Ethical Consumer recommends we should choose “lyocell bamboo”, or organic or recycled cotton, for the most sustainable fabrics in clothing.
Take a look at this table, which offers an environmental grading from Class A, most sustainable, to Class E. Bamboo viscose is Class E.
What BAM has to say about bamboo products
I asked BAM for their response to my question of just how environmentally friendly bamboo is as a product for making clothes.
The BAM sustainability manager replied, saying: “We have traced our supply chain right back to the forest where we source the bamboo, which is no mean feat as our sustainability team would be able to tell you, so its certainly something we care very deeply about and will be continuing to focus on moving forward.
“Having worked in this area for almost five years I know that no ‘more sustainable’ fibres are perfect or without their downsides. We use many of them, including organic cotton and recycled polyester alongside bamboo viscose, because they are all lower impact than the extremely damaging conventional fibres the industry is so reliant on.
“Organic cotton, hemp and other natural plant fibres would require huge amounts of land to meet the demand of the whole clothing industry and they are not suitable for all types of clothing and end uses.
“Recycled Polyester reduces reliance on virgin petroleum but in the long term is a bit of a false solution because materials are diverted away from an existing closed loop. Plastic bottles can easily be recycled back into plastic bottles again and again. This fabric is also used in products that are very rarely recyclable. We have started to address this with our 73 Zero jackets.
“Bamboo, as we know, is inherently a lower impact raw material than hardwood trees, but the viscose process requires hazardous chemicals.
“Lyocell is positive improvement on the viscose process in terms of the chemicals required in one part of the process, however other hazardous chemicals are still required and, most often at the moment, it is still made from hardwood trees, which are much more destructive to harvest than bamboo.
“We are aware of one producer that has recently started to produce bamboo lyocell but we haven’t been able to source it yet due to the very high costs and minimum order quantities.
“This is part of the challenge – it takes years for new technology and innovation to scale up and start to trickle through the wider industry at a realistic price point so it’s very difficult for brands, especially small brands to change things overnight.
“Part of the reason bamboo viscose is not rated that highly in a lot of places is because people don’t know a lot about it. We are changing that because we started mapping our supply chain four years ago and we’ve been able to verify that our viscose producers are managing chemicals and waste responsibly.
“We’re also helping them to identify how they could more transparently evidence their responsible production practices in a way which would be credible for the UK/EU market.
“Unfortunately, it’s just not black and white or very simple to explain which is why there is so much confusion out there.
“Ultimately, we believe in bamboo as a raw material that is not only lower impact but can actually have a positive impact when cultivated in the right way.
“Viscose is a biodegradable fibre and made from natural renewable materials unlike synthetics but is also a good alternative for activewear due to its performance attributes. The processing is not impact-free but it’s not as bad as it gets made out to be and it’s constantly getting better.
“BAM is working to monitor both cultivation and processing and drive improvement by collaborating directly with our producers.”
My opinion: The best approach if we are to reduce the environmental impact of being a consumer is to buy fewer clothes and wear what we own for as along as we can, then donate them to others. If you need a new item, buy second-hand. But, there are times when new is the only way and in this case it’s important to think about the impact of growing a crop and then manufacturing. Also, there is the environmental concern of transporting the items to shops and homes. Of all the information I read, Ethical Consumer appeared to be the most thorough and informed.
Now for my reviews…
Review: BAM Trewortha Bamboo baselayer
This is a half zip baselayer with thumb holes. BAM describe the fabric as supersoft and highly absorbent. It is made from bamboo viscose and organic cotton blend.
The fabric weight is 200gsm: 68% bamboo viscose; 28% organic cotton; 4% elastane.
BAM state: “The top will keep out the cold as you warm up and also help you to cool down when you get hot. The stretchy fabric also offers a comfortable fit.”
- Sizes: UK8 to UK16
- Price: £52
- Buy: BAM Trewortha Bamboo baselayer (I receive a small commission for sales.)
- There are male alternatives.
POSITIVE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT:
BAM list the environmental positives of their products.
- 1.5 m2 of land farmed without pesticides
- 4.3 km of driving emissions avoided
- 193 days of drinking water saved.
It would be useful if they were more transparent about the negative impacts, in my opinion.
If a product I am reviewing finds itself being worn more than other products already in my outdoors clothing cupboard then it is obviously a winner. I now choose the BAM Trewortha Bamboo baselayer over all others for walking, running and cycling.
I love the feel of the fabric. It is really soft and amazingly comfortable against the skin. I would love to be able to wear merino wool products against my skin but I find them itchy. Some are less itchy than others but the BAM top is not in the least bit itchy.
The UK10 fits me nicely and it is a flattering shaped top. The arms are a bit short for me to make comfortable use of the thumb holes but I do have long arms so this isn’t unusual.
I like the half zip that can be zipped up when I’m cold and opened when I’m warmer.
The colours and design are great, too.
The performance is great. I use the top for layering, so I might start a run with a polyester t-shirt, the BAM baselayer and then a running jacket. I’ll peel off the jacket as I warm up. The BAM top offers good insulation when it’s chilly but also allows sweat to evaporate on warmer days.
If I compare the BAM top to cotton it is an excellent wicking top, although compared to a 200gsm merino wool top, I’d say it retains a little more sweat. I don’t sweat a lot and if you do, merino will be a better choice.
However, I have worn this top in all kinds of weather and for a range of activities and I find it to be one of the best performing I own.
Strangely, BAM describe the fabric as “super absorbent”. I am not sure why. I guess they mean it absorbs moisture but they really should be looking at where the moisture then goes. Cotton and bamboo are not as good at wicking sweat and moisture as lighter weight merino products, but I have found that the BAM top does get rid of moisture pretty effectively.
Even when I stop an activity that has been sweaty, it dries quickly so I don’t end up shivering. I know some people prefer merino for faster drying properties but I find the BAM top to be just fine.
Another bonus is that it doesn’t get too whiffy, unlike polyester products. In the interests of full testing, I wore the top for a full week of running and walking. It was only after about seven wears that I could notice any odour in the armpits.
Being able to wear clothing repeatedly without the need for washing helps to reduce the environmental impact of washing machine use and detergents.
The price of £52 is quite high but when you compare with many merino products, I’d say it is fairly reasonable.
Review: BAM Pipet colour block crop top
The BAM colour block crop top with a racer back is made from “Enduro” fabric to offer stretch and support. The top is designed for low impact sports and has an elasticated underband and flatlock stitching, so it won’t chafe or rub.
- 340gsm fabric: 64% Bamboo Viscose, 24% Organic Cotton, 12% Elastane.
- Sizes: UK8 to UK16
- Price: £28
- Buy: BAM Pipet colour block crop top. (I receive a small commission for sales.)
POSITIVE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT:
- 0.7 m2 of land farmed without pesticides
- 2.1 km of driving emissions avoided
- 94.9 days of drinking water saved.
The crop top is well fitting and comfortable. I like the wide chest band and the generous shoulder strap width. The race back is comfortable. I have used it for circuit training, walking and for running. Although it is meant to be for low-impact activities, I don’t need a great deal of support due to my size so the crop top bra is fine for all activities for me.
The fabric is quite thick, which means I won’t be wearing it for running in the summer because I’ll end up too warm. The fabric is good at allowing sweat to evaporate and like the baselayer it doesn’t end up too whiffy too quickly.
However, the fabric s quite thick and I have other sports bras that dry more quickly. When I ran more than 10 miles in the crop top, I got a bit of skin chafing because the sweat lingered. I will reserve this product for less sweaty activities, such as yoga and circuit training.
You could wear this as a bra beneath your normal sports clothing and also as a standalone crop top.
BAM Bamboo quarter cropped trainer socks
The BAM quarter crop sock is made from supersoft, absorbent bamboo viscose with a little elastane for stretch.
- Composition: 76% Viscose Bamboo, 23% Polyamide, 1% Elastane.
- Sizes: UK4 to 7
- Price: Four pack of socks: RRP £17.50, now £12.25
- Buy: Trainer socks. (I receive a small commission for sales.)
POSITIVE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT:
- 0.2 m2 of land farmed without pesticides
- 0.3 km of driving emissions avoided
- 25.5 days of drinking water saved
The socks are very, very comfortable and feel really silky and soft on my feet. The stretch is also good. They keep my feet warm but without making them overly sweaty.
I find them a bit slippery and stretchy for wearing while running. It’s a strange thing but my feet feel like they will slip about in the soft fabric and I prefer a more supportive sports sock for running and mountain hiking. But for general wear and for walking low-level trails, the socks are really nice.
The colours are also great and I’ve had many positive comments about them.
I like the idea of wearing socks that won’t get too smelly.
One negative is that they take longer to dry after a wash than all my other socks. This means that if you get sweaty feet you might end up with damp skin.
Review: BAM Bamboo Seamless Classic Briefs
The BAM classic bikini briefs “unite seamless technology with the softness and breathability of bamboo for knickers so comfortable you barely know you’re wearing them”.
- Features include: Moisture management and good for allergy prone and sensitive skin.
- Fabric: 78% Bamboo Viscose, 15% Polyamide, 7% Elastane.
- Price: £15.
- Buy: Bamboo Seamless Classic Briefs. (I receive a small commission for sales.)
POSITIVE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT:
- 0.3 m2 of land farmed without pesticides
- 0.6 km of driving emissions avoided
- 27 days of drinking water saved.
I am very particular about my knickers and I hate annoying seams or lace, plus they need to fit well. Any pants that end up disappearing up my bum (sorry for that detail!) or rub or make me sweat are quickly rejected and shoved to the back of my underwear drawer.
I have to say I really love BAM classic briefs. They fit comfortably, breathe well, don’t chafe and they are really easy to wear. I love them for sports because I don’t end up with rubs and nor do I sweat.
Hubby G has a pair of BAM briefs, too, and he really likes them. He says that they are a product that is somewhere between cotton and polyester and they are very comfortable and non sweaty.
- I was sent all these above items to review. This is all my opinion.