A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission charged four clothing companies with falsely advertising their clothing made of bamboo as clothing made of bamboo. Say what? That’s right. The FTC released a statement explaining that it does not feel that textiles made of bamboo can rightfully continue to be called so after processing because at that point, they cease to be bamboo. How can this be? Read on to see why.

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In order to comprehend the FTC’s accusations, it’s important to understand the process that bamboo must go through in order to morph into its soft, fabric state. Although the process of farming bamboo and the fact that it grows so quickly are typically sustainable, it must undergo treatment using harsh and often toxic chemicals in order to be made into a wearable fiber. The resulting product is one that you’ve probably heard of before – Rayon, a fiber that can be made from the cellulose of any plant or tree. Surprised? I certainly was. First of all, while it makes sense that once one type of material goes through certain changes, it can be an entirely different material altogether – very much like how a piece of coal under massive amounts of pressure becomes a diamond – it seems unfair to ignore the positive environmental aspects of the original material. After all, isn’t the Rayon made from bamboo technically more sustainable than Rayon made from other types of plants that need tons of pesticides to grow and do not have the ability to regenerate as quickly?

One important factor in the case is whether there was the intent to deceive. That is to say it is unclear whether the accused companies, Jonäno, Mad Mod, Pure Bamboo and Bamboosa, understood that marketing their products, ecoKashmere, Pure Bamboo, Bamboo Comfort and BambooBaby, respectively, as 100% bamboo fiber was dishonest. Is the fact that you need to label any material processed as Rayon, “Rayon” a given in the industry? I am no textile expert, but if you know better, please enlighten me.

Now, here is where it gets a little hairy. All four companies charged also sold their items as antimicrobial, a beneficial trait that is often associated with bamboo. The FTC points out that the chemical processing used to make Rayon eliminates any of bamboo’s antimicrobial properties. The allegations went on to say that all four companies also stated that their products were made with environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes, which seems baffling considering the harsh chemicals used.

Three of the four accused companies have decided to settle with the FTC and will no longer use the false and misleading claims. Referencing the point I made above about at least being able to show that the raw material used to make the Rayon these brands use is indeed bamboo, they will be allowed to write “Rayon made from bamboo” on their labels.

+ Federal Trade Commission Consumer Alert regarding Bamboo Rayon