The Panda Food in Your Pants

By Sidra Durst, Business 2.0 Magazine intern

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Time was when bamboo was just for stir-frying and panda feed. Now the Chinese grass, which yields 50 times as much fiber per acre as cotton, is used for everything from hardwood flooring to baby clothes.

And it's fast becoming the U.S. fabric industry's hot new alternative to cotton. Indeed, $10 million worth of bamboo textiles will be sold in the United States this year, $50 million worldwide.

Currently the method of turning stalks into yarn is a secret closely guarded by Chinese manufacturers. But that doesn't make the product prohibitively pricey: A bamboo T-shirt costs about $7 and is far softer, easier to dye, and better at fighting odor than cotton.

"It's not as cheap as cotton yet, but it will be. Bamboo fabric will be gigantic," says Rich Delano, whose Brea, Calif., company, Bamboo Textiles, began selling bamboo clothes, towels, and bedding three years ago in the United States and has seen revenue triple to $1 million a year.

Delano's products are already on shelves at Target (Charts) and will be in Nordstrom (Charts) and J.C. Penney (Charts) next year. Ga (Charts)p is also researching uses for the fabric.

"The market potential of bamboo fabric is certain to grow," says Brian Waniewski, an analyst at BrainReserve. Bad news for pandas, good news for the makers of polos and pants.  Top of page

To send a letter to the editor about this story, click here.