Bamboo Clothing:The Story Behind Bam
I used to spend all my time pole vaulting, but I wasn’t good enough to earn enough money from it, so I started selling T-shirts to pay my way. After 10 years of this, it had become a “promotional clothing business”, which was comfortable and profitable, but it wasn’t really what I was after in life. I wanted to do something that made me feel good every day rather than just turning the cogs.
Being naively impetuous, I’d sold the business within a month of deciding to change, (with no idea what I was going to do next – “something’ll turn up”) and for much less money than I would have if I’d been a bit more calculating about it. In fact I’d also organised to be the cameraman / film-maker on a Gurkha expedition across Greenland, so I had to wrap things up before that started. It was a rush, and pretty dumb really, but dragging a heavy load across Greenland with all the raw beauty of a frozen sea of ice took my mind off that (not to mention my raw feet!) and drew a line between old business and new ideas. It was the best experience of my life and brought me back in touch with the important things, not least a reconnection with everything natural and earthy.
A bit of frost-nip, trenchfoot and snow blindness later, I settled on finding a project that was environmentally positive, that I could bring to the mainstream market, not just the ‘eco-market’ and actually make a difference that I could be proud of.
After 9 months of searching, I came across bamboo clothing in a small town in China. I’m a bit slow, so the penny dropped over the period of about a week (it was a long, slow drop, into an otherwise empty box…), but with all the amazing properties of bamboo clothing, as well as the environmental benefits, it was, to me, a clear winner, and I got so excited I threw everything I had at it – not much hard cash, unfortunately, but enough enthusiasm to make up for it.
Better for the environment
Environmentally, the use of bamboo is a ‘sleeping giant’ it’s the fastest growing plant in the world, so needs no fertilizers at all, and also has it’s own strong natural antibacterial defence, so doesn’t need pesticides either. This is a major deal in terms of the health of those harvesting it and the environmental benefits to the environment both on a local and global level.
Another huge benefit is that bamboo grows on hillsides where other crops can’t, and without the huge extra water requirements of, say, cotton.
But for me the biggest plus of all is that the yield – the amount you get from an acre of land – is 10 times higher than cotton.
So in terms of efficiency, ultra low impact, human and environmental health, bamboo scores very highly on all round sustainability. I’m convinced we’ve barely scraped the surface of bamboo for clothing. The World Agricultural Commission has already predicted that by 2030, one third of all cotton grown will be organic. This indicates a sustained, long term acceptance that we need to change the way we farm for clothing. I believe over the next century it will become normal to use bamboo instead of cotton – in my humble view. And the world will be better for it.
Better for the user
So bamboo is simply far better, environmentally. The ‘double whammy’ is that it’s also got all kinds of benefits for the wearer, so it’s got a strong appeal regardless of whether the wearer gives a damn about the environment (this was my criteria – it had to be better both environmentally and for the user). So what’s special about bamboo?
It’s incredibly soft next to the skin, like cashmere, but in a T-shirt, or cami top. Also, it’s a performance fabric – all of the top sportswear brands are now either using it or developing it. It wicks away moisture from your skin, it breathes very well, it keeps you cooler when you’re hot and warmer in the cold (because it’s full of tiny cells of air which warm up next to your skin), it’s anti static so doesn’t stick to you when you’re hot, it’s antibacterial nature is retained, so it doesn’t get smelly – very handy for socks and the performance wear!
It’s the most comfortable thing you can have next to your skin and it works hard to keep you comfortable, all without any chemical additives or ‘performance’ treatments, this is just how it is.
As such, it’s also non irritant to sensitive skin. We get a lot of very enthusiastic feedback from our customers, on all levels, from cyclists to rock climbers to walkers and yesterday we got this: “The order was for my 75 year-old Mum who’d just had heart surgery. The problem was that all her clothes, including 100% cotton stuff, was irritating her scar. I bought her 2 man’s T-shirts and 4 weeks later it’s still the only thing that doesn’t irritate her skin. She loves them.”
You’ll see bamboo clothing more and more – for good reason. It’s highly enjoyable now working to build this brand, Bam and I get a buzz every day from it. My proudest achievement isn’t walking across Greenland, it’s deciding to leave the comfort zone in search of a new business, for all the right reasons, and to actually make it happen and, touch wood, still be here after two years.
We’re also paying from the sale of each garment for a tree to be planted in the buyer’s name, so we can, over time, make a significant difference in a positive way, not just be less negative in the impact our business has. I think, amongst others as well, we can do something very special with bamboo clothing and I can’t wait.
David Gordon Founder, Bam: Bamboo Clothing