Labeling and marketing “bamboo” textiles

26 08 2010
Bamboo is becoming more popular in commercial usage and is often marketed as a “sustainable” and “green” product in many countries. There are now a lot of clothing and other textile products, such as towels, socks and T-shirts on the market which extol the virtues of bamboo and are labeled as “made from bamboo”.
However, with the increase of such products, the scrutiny of the labels and claims made about the origins of the fibre has increased, and in many cases authorities have concluded that such claims or labeling practices do not comply with the relevant laws and regulations.
So what is going on here? Bamboo fabric can be produced from bamboo fibres: if the natural fibres are used and made into yarn, it can be said that it is made from bamboo and in some countries can be labeled as such.
However, most “bamboo fabric” is actually viscose or rayon, a regenerated cellulose fibre which is chemically manufactured from bamboo, by a very similar process to when rayon is made from wood or other biomass and waste by–products.
In the biggest markets for these textile products – the EU, USA and Canada – the authorities have all issued specific rules on the labeling and marketing of “bamboo” textiles. For the EU market, the European Commission has issued a directive on textile names. This directive states which textile products are required to have a label for when they are marketed and / or sold in the EU, and what should be on that label.
Directive no: 2008/121/EC on textile names, published on 14 January 2009,  harmonises labelling requirements and textile fibre names, describing conditions and rules for the labelling of textile products to be placed in the EU market. The information which has to be provided relates to the textile fibre content of the textile product and only fibre names listed in Annex I of this directive may be used. The name “bamboo” is not included in Annex I; therefore, it can not be used for the purposes of compulsory description of fibre composition.
However, the name “viscose” is included in Annex I and this should be used to describe the fibres corresponding to the definition, including viscose from bamboo fibres. Further information about Directive 2008/121/EC and the information required for the application are available at the website of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/textile/intlmarket.htm
Also in the United States of America, the Federal Trade Commission, the USA’s consumer protection agency, has ruled that that unless a product is made directly with bamboo fiber — often called “mechanically processed bamboo” — it is also not allowed be called “bamboo”.  This means that if the product isn”t made directly of bamboo fiber — but is a manufactured fiber for which bamboo was the plant source — it should be labeled and advertised using the proper generic name for the fiber, such as rayon.
Labeling and marketing the product in the US has to comply with the “Textile Fiber Products Identification Act” and the FTC’s Textile Rules. You can find more information at this website: http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/textile
In Canada, the Canadian Competition Bureau (CCB) requires importers and retailers to comply with the country’s Textile Labeling Act (TLA) and the Textile Labeling and Advertising Regulations (TLAR).
The proper generic name will depend on which cellulose process was used. If the product is made of man-made rayon fibers derived from bamboo, the generic fiber name must first make reference to either “rayon” or the corresponding process outlined in the TLAR, followed by the words “from bamboo”.
If the products made from man-made fibers derived from bamboo are also claimed to be “naturally antibacterial” or “UV protective”, then such claims must be supported by appropriate test evidence. If it is called “eco-friendly” for example, it also has to comply with the rules on Environmental claims.
Jolanda Jonkhart, Director, Trade Development Programme
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