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1.6.2013 9:06 PM

FTC to Retailers: 'Bamboo' Fabric Isn't Bamboo

4 'buyer beware' facts about clothing and textiles that claim to be made from bamboo.

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By The Daily Green Staff

The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on a marketing claim that may have ensnared many environmentally conscious buyers: "bamboo."

While clothing and other textiles may have started off, at some point, as the rapidly regenerative bamboo, the FTC says companies can't label rayon as bamboo, even if it's made from bamboo. Why? Because, according to the FTC: "Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with harsh chemicals that release hazardous air pollution. Any plant or tree – including bamboo – could be used as the cellulose source, but the fiber that is created is rayon."

The FTC this week sent warning letters to 78 retailers about misguided use of "bamboo" marketing. Among the warned retailers: Amazon.com, Barney’s New York, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Bloomingdale’s, Costco Wholesale, Garnet Hill, Gold Toe, Hanes, Isotoner, JCPenney, Jockey, Kmart, Kohl’s, Land’s End, Macy’s, Maidenform, Nordstrom, Overstock.com, QVC, REI, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sears, Shop NBC, Spiegel, Sports Authority, Target, The Gap, The Great Indoors, Tommy Bahama, Toys R’ Us, Wal-Mart, and Zappos.com. Last year, the FTC sued several retailers for advertising rayon as bamboo.

"We need to make sure companies use proper labeling and advertising in their efforts to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers," David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a prepared statement. "Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process."

If retailers and manufacturers fail to comply, the penalty can be severe: $16,000 per violation.

The FTC's consumer tips include this information about "bamboo" rayon:

  • Rayon made from bamboo uses "toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air.
  • "Extracting bamboo fibers is expensive and time-consuming, and textiles made just from bamboo fiber don’t feel silky smooth."
  • "There’s also no evidence that rayon made from bamboo retains the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant."
  • "No traits of the original plant are left in the finished product."

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