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Bamboozled 09/15/2008 - 1:01 PM

What do you think of when you hear the word “bamboo”? For me, it conjures up two images. First, is open swim at summer camp. I remember counselors standing around the pool holding long bamboo poles (keep it clean) to extend to a kid struggling to stay afloat. The other is Gilligan’s Island. The Professor could take four bamboo shoots, a couple of coconuts, a few palm leaves, and build a refrigerator. Sadly though, these same raw materials are virtually useless when it comes to fixing boats.

One thing that I would not associate with bamboo is clothing, especially athletic performance apparel. Until now. Evidently the fibers from this woody plant are softer than cotton yet incredibly durable, and have better ventilation and moisture management properties than synthetics like polyester. And it’s all-natural. No chemicals or additives are needed to give the bamboo all these qualities. For the eco-conscious set, that’s a valuable asset. Particularly when you consider how abundant it is (grows up to four feet a day) and safe it is to cultivate (no fertilizers or pesticides).

That's why you should get ready to welcome tennis attire that features this all-purpose plant. Prince has a shoe out now, the OV-I, that has a “GreenFit” sock-liner which contains bamboo charcoal. It’s designed to reduce odors and other unpleasantness without the use of artificial compounds. In 2009, Wilson will be rolling out a new line of apparel with bamboo integrated into select pieces. According to the company they perform better than any polyester-type shirt with none of the harm to the environment.

Now I’ll admit I’m a polyester kind of guy. I’ve got drawers full of Nike Dri-FIT, Adidas ClimaCool and Under Armour Heat Gear shirts and shorts. I can’t play in anything else. But if bamboo is as good as advertised, I’ll happily do my part for humanity and make the switch. Obviously cost would be a factor. Since many synthetics are made from non-renewable petroleum, and we all know that’s not too cheap, it’s hard to believe that clothes made from bamboo wouldn’t be a comparable price. And as mentioned earlier, the stuff grows like a weed.

That leaves style. When I met with Wilson last month about their new apparel they explained that, at the moment, they can only make clothes with bamboo in dark colors. The natural appearance of the fiber looks somewhere in the charcoal grey range and dying it to a lighter color destroys some of the performance qualities of the fabric. This is something that can probably be remedied in the near future. But it does pose an interesting question. If the polyester synthetics have a varied and more appealing look than the subdued bamboo offerings, which do you choose? Do you nurture the environment, or your sense of style?


Posted by Jake 09/16/2008 at 04:13 PM

I wear bamboo fiber socks to work everyday and they are incredible. They are more comfortable than any other socks I've worn and while they do cost more than cotton/poly blend socks, they cost a lot less than a nice pair of merino wool socks. Can't wait until I can get tennis clothes made of this stuff.

Posted by Giuseppe 09/16/2008 at 08:54 PM

Yeah Bamboo

Posted by Rob 09/16/2008 at 10:16 PM

I just got a New Balance Bamboo Biocool T. I live in a very hot and humid tropical country (which incidentally grows a lot of bamboo), and this shirt is way cool. It is my new favorite among my collection of drifits and climas.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 09/17/2008 at 11:53 AM

This is cool... bamboo, the new cotton.

I'm in.. please keep us posted on the product lines that will be using bamboo. I live in eatern North Carolina where the summers are incredibly humid and hot. Cotton just doesn't work as sportswear. It gets too heavy and smelly. The dri-fit stuff works pretty well (it dries fast and can be soaked in water and hung out to dry for a couple of uses before washing in mildly soapy water. But the dri-fit materials feel hot, and I often begin sweating as soon as I don them -- they're not comfortable until I'm working out.

Posted by rebecca 09/17/2008 at 12:50 PM

i got a pair of bamboo/cotton socks at walmart and they are great. my feet stay dry.

Posted by FeFe 09/17/2008 at 03:58 PM

Performance outweighs fashion. Green trumps selection.

Posted by habrow2 09/17/2008 at 06:10 PM

How about tennis racquets?

Posted by eddy 09/17/2008 at 06:32 PM

i'd agree green is more important than fashion, but less important than price.

Posted by Shihab 09/19/2008 at 05:15 AM

While I'd love to be more environmentally and performance conscious, I also have to be a realist. Summers here in Dallas, TX, stay at 100-degrees plus from late June until late August. Dark clothing outdoors is definitely a no-no. Whatever moisture absorbing and ventilating properties bamboo fibers might have would be more than offset by the heat absorption and retention of dark coloring.

Posted by Eric 09/20/2008 at 11:48 AM

cool cant wait to get a shirt of bamboo

Posted by Gongoozler 09/21/2008 at 08:09 AM

Bamboo . . . like the bars on Rambo's cell. I'm sure they are using it because it is cheap!

Posted by Pato 09/21/2008 at 11:25 PM

Bamboo can be great, it helps the enviroment and us.

Posted by Syd 09/26/2008 at 12:44 PM

Hold off on the environmentally friendly claims of bamboo, one of China's big emerging industries.

It's not exactly a green environment and poses all the problems of any big monoculture crop planted in forestlands that have been clearcut specifically for the purpose of growing bamboo.

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