The other week I was sitting in a medical waiting room reading, as you do, a copy of Reader Digest. There was an intriguing article about Jackie Heinricher, her Booshoot company, and the plan to bring large scale bamboo cultivation to North America. At the time I thought I should follow up on that story.
So I was very surprised to come home and find in my email inbox a missive regarding outdoor sock company Bridgedale’s connection with Booshoot and their Plant A Boo campaign. It seems once upon a time the US had 5 million acres of bamboo under crop. The Plant A Boo project is looking to reinvigorate this swift growing grass as a domestically available resource for furniture, flooring and textiles.Bridgedale became involved because a while back they launched a line of sports socks, which use up to 35% bamboo in the material blend. For some time now they’ve used a technology they dub WoolFusion, whereby a synthetic wicking yarn is wrapped around a core of wool or merino wool. This has stood them in good stead for cold weather socks.
Using the same technology Bridgedale have, in this instance swapped out the wool core for the bamboo fibre. Apparently the bamboo keeps feet cooler than other natural fibres. l’ve been sent a few pair to trial, and will report back soon.
Bamboo is a swift growing, renewable fibre that is said to store four times more carbon dioxide (CO2) than a similar stand of trees while releasing 23% more oxygen. Additionally it has great textile qualities like softness, durability and anti-bacterial properties.
However, it must also shoulder its own fair share of burdens. See our earlier post Is Bamboo Clothing Truly Green?
The process used to convert bamboo grass stalks into soft yarn is akin to viscose (rayon) production, which has traditionally been a very dirty industry, using caustic solvents to extract the cellulose element. So dirty that decades ago Tencel (tree pulp fibre) was developed, using a method that recycled much of the solvent, to reduce the waste disposal and pollution issues.
Concerns over bamboo fibre production are not all that causes a twitch in the eye of dedicated green types. There are worries that bamboo’s recent newly rediscovered fame could be leading to deforestation, with trees felled to make way for a new monoculture cash cow.
Bridgedale, a Northern Ireland-based company with close to 100 years of heritage in the sock manufacturing game appear to know a thing or two about materials. And we assume they’ve sensitive to such issues, hence the partnership with Booshoot promoting the virtues of the miracle grass.
Bamboo has a horizontal root structure, known as rhizomes, and has been hard to commercially produce as as a horticultural offering. This is largely because bamboo can take up to 60 - 120 years to flower, making seed collection unreliable. Booshoot have therefore spent eight years cracking the code of how to enable the rapid propagation of bamboo plants. To do so they had to buy their very own tissue-culture science laboratory. But now, with their breakthrough, they’re confident they can roll out millions of plants to wholesale nurseries.
Their listing of the benefits of bamboo includes it putting on a biomass growth of 10-30% annually, compared with 2-5% for most trees. It can be harvested in 3-5 years, versus 10-20 years for most softwoods or 100+ years for oak. And compared to some tree species it produces double the tonnage of wood per acre.
Photos: Socks - Bridgedale, Bamboo - Booshoot
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