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Nowadays everyone is becoming more environmentally aware, trying to be carbon neutral, buying organic, and minimising their impact on the environment. Outdoor gear manufacturers have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and are  offering  outdoor clothing made with eco friendly fabrics. What I want to know is what exactly are these green fabrics, how do they preform and are they actually any good for the environment?

Bamboo Clothing

Bamboo growing - Source : steve webel flickr

Bamboo growing - Source : steve webel flickr

What is Bamboo fiber?

Bamboo fiber is a fabric which is very similar to cotton in its unspun form. To make bamboo fiber, the bamboo is heavily pulped until it separates into thin component threads of fiber, which can then be spun and dyed before being woven into cloth.  It can be bleached to turn the material white although for an organic material this process is not carried out.

What are the benefits of bamboo fiber?

Bamboo fabric is softer than cotton with a texture similar to silk. This eco friendly fabric also has natural antibacterial properties. Other fibers such as cotton may have a chemically added anti-bacteria function that could cause skin allergies, but bamboo is naturally hypoallergenic. Bamboo fabric is 3-4 times more absorbent than cotton.

What are the environmental benefits of bamboo clothing?

Bamboo fibre for clothing - Source : Sewing geek flickr

Bamboo fibre for clothing - Source : Sewing geek flickr

The process for creating bamboo clothing has a very small impact on the environment. Bamboo naturally grows rapidly, without using any pesticides or fertilizers. Bamboo grows to its maximum height in about 3 months and reaches maturity in 3-4 years with a growth rate sometimes exceeding 1 meter per day. It is sustainable as bamboo is arguably the most renewable resource on our planet. It has an extensive rooting system and needs little water, growing 4–6 new shoots per year. It is, in fact, considered to be the fastest growing plant in the world. Bamboo absorbs nearly 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases and produces 35% more oxygen than the same amount of trees. Bamboo is rain-fed only and helps to reduce soil erosion. As it is a grass, bamboo is cut, not uprooted which helps soil stability.

For an update on the environmental claims about bamboo fabrics, please read our follow-up post Bamboo: An Eco-Friendly Product or Not?

Cocona Clothing

What is Cocona fabric enchancer?
Cocona is a fabric enhancer with activated carbon made from coconut shells. The technology was designed as a coating for a Chemical Defense program to adsorb chemical agents into the carbon pores so that they would not come into contact with the users skin. The coatings ended up being too “messy” to use for apparel. So, Dr. Greg Haggquist invented a way to permanently embed the activated coconut carbon into polymers for high performance outdoor clothing.

What are the benefits of cocona in clothing?

Unprocessed coconut shells - Source : Skiing Flea Flickr

Unprocessed coconut shells - Source : Skiing Flea Flickr

Cocona fabrics offer a natural solution incorporated into the yarns and fibers which provides enhanced performance without adding steps and costs for additional finishes. By using natural ingredients incorporated into yarns and fibers, there are no harsh chemicals or topical treatments to irritate the skin.

It rapidly moves perspiration over an enormous surface area which is created by the pores of the activated carbon leading to enhanced cooling. These carbon pores also absorb and trap surface odours to prevent any bad smells, so after a long day on the hills you can head out to the pub and not worry about no one wanting to stand next to you. Cocona also has a UPF 50+ rating which indicates that 98% of UV is blocked.

What are the environmental benefits of cocona?
Cocona technology utilizes recycled coconut shells that would have gone to landfills. Suppliers convert the coconut shells into activated carbon, primarily for the air and water filtration industries. Cocona uses the particles that are too small to use in water and air filters, apply their processes and then combine it with other fabrics. While this is not a completely “green” process it is much better than using chemicals to treat the materials.

So there you have a short summary of 2 eco fabrics being used by some outdoor manufacturers today. I have to say in my opinion both preform very well, although obviously bamboo has more environmental benefits over cocona along with the fact that cocona has to be used with another fabric so the environmental impact of the other fabric still applies.

Personally I think its great that outdoor gear manufacturers are starting to provide outdoor clothing made using these green fabrics. I hope they continue to increase their ranges using eco friendly materials as well as investing in the development of new technologies to increase their performance.

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