Monday, August 17, 2009

Make a statement: Onesies with a message

Onesies are the basis of any baby's wardrobe. The plain white ones are utilitarian, but it's fun to add more interesting onesies to the mix. There are tons of novelty options out there, from supporting sports teams to supporting political parties. I tend to shy away from those types as I hope Pooka will grow up to make her own choices in these matters. On the other hand I have found some onesies that have great messages to share with the world. I love the onesies from Small Plum, who make organic bamboo baby clothes. Some of my favorite messages are "Produced Locally," "Homemade," and "Fat and Happy." Tiny Revolutionary also makes some fun organic onesies with messages about world change and peace. My favorite is the "I am the future" onesie. I also like the onesies at Tea Collection that support The Global Fund for Children. The onesies have the phrase "Little citizen of the world" on the front and come in colors for boys and girls. Finally, the Gap has an organic line of onesies with environmental messages such as "Respect your mother" and "Green is the new black." With so many adorable choices it's easy to let your baby make a statement!


  1. actually bamboo is not a sustainable choice for fabric. Check out the recent action from the FTC on the misleading 'green' claims on bamboo: The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has charged four sellers of clothing and other textile products with deceptively labeling and advertising these items as made of bamboo fiber, when in fact they are manufactured from rayon. In addition, the complaints also charge the companies with making false and unsubstantiated “green” claims that their clothing and textile products are manufactured using an environmentally friendly process; that they retain the natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, and that they are biodegradable.

    The textile fiber products manufactured, marketed and sold by companies consist of rayon and not actual bamboo fibers. It is a violation of the FTC textile labeling rules to identify a fabric as simply 100% bamboo or 100% bamboo rayon. Bamboo is not a generic fiber. Rayon is the generic name for a fiber made from cellulose. Common sources of cellulose are pine, spruce, hemlock as well as bamboo. Bamboo, like pine, spruce or hemlock is a source of cellulose that is used to manufacture rayon. Whatever the source of the cellulose, if it is used to make rayon, then the garment should be labeled as 100% rayon or 100% rayon from bamboo. Such garments should also not be marketed with terms such as “Pure Bamboo”, “Bamboo Comfort”, or “Bamboo Baby” that were used in the cases that the FTC investigated.

    The FTC notes that even if the rayon used in the companies’ clothing and textile products is manufactured using bamboo as the cellulose source, rayon does not retain any natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant. According to the FTC, the rayon manufacturing process, which involves dissolving the plant source in harsh and toxic chemicals, eliminates any such natural properties of the bamboo plant and results in the emission of hazardous air pollutants. The FTC also notes that most clothing and textile products are disposed of either by recycling or sending to a landfill. Therefore, such products of rayon are not biodegradable, and will not break down and return to the elements found in nature in a reasonably short period of time after disposal.

  2. I have contacted the company asking them to clarify the issues raised by previous comment and will let you know if I hear anything.

  3. Apologies for the delayed response. We were exhibiting at a trade show in New York.

    I’m happy that more and more people are actively trying to stay informed about green issues and share what they know. There is a lot of information out there, much of it confusing and often contradictory.

    Small Plum is a two-person, husband-and-wife company. My wife and I are the parents of two children, boys ages 1 and 3, and we are just as concerned as most parents when it comes to the environment and sustainability.

    Below is some more information about Small Plum garments, as well as information I’ve gathered on textiles labeled as “environmentally friendly.”

    The supplier of our bamboo holds the patent for the process of turning bamboo into fiber. The bamboo is certified organic by The Organic Crop Improvement Association

    To control the quality of bamboo, our supplier has built its own plantation to keep strict control over it. To ensure that the bamboo is of 100% natural growth and without any chemical pesticides, the bamboo is grown using the international organic standard of OCIA/IFOAM It is also in accordance with the USDA National Organic Program.

    Small Plum garments are made from the soft viscose from organic bamboo. All of the fiber produced is OEKO-TEX 100 certified OEKO-TEX 100 certification tests that the finished fiber is free from chemicals that may be harmful to a human being, and has been found to contain no trace chemicals that pose any health threat whatsoever.

    It is true that the chemicals used to process bamboo, if not handled properly, can be hazardous to the environment. Bamboo is not a perfect crop in this respect. However, textile alternatives have problems of their own.

    For example, most are surprised to learn that the production of organic cotton releases large quantities of harmful greenhouse gases, and has a large carbon footprint. Organic cotton releases over 14 times more greenhouse gas than conventional cotton. This information comes from Steven Savage, Ph.D. who has over 30 yrs experience and whose work focuses on the interaction between agriculture and climate change.

    According to Mr. Savage, the primary cause of organic cotton’s large carbon footprint is the use of organic fertilizer (manure and compost). Unlike nitrogen fertilizer, organic fertilizer releases large amounts of methane which, according to Mr. Savage, is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Even small amounts of methane released present a significant carbon footprint. Mr. Savage concludes that major sources of nitrogen for organic crops, manure and green waste composts, entail far more carbon emissions than synthetic nitrogen sources, saying finally that: “Based on the unexpectedly large carbon footprint of manure and compost fertilization, the widely held assumption that organic agriculture is better for climate change must be questioned.”

    Compare this to bamboo, which requires absolutely NO fertilizer, not even organic fertilizer, and actually rapidly absorbs greenhouse gases during its growth. Both bamboo and cotton sequester carbon and produce oxygen during growth, but bamboo carbon sequestration is much greater than that of organic cotton. Also, greenhouse gas emissions (including embedded) from the fertilizing of organic cotton far exceed the crops’ carbon sequestration. In short, organic cotton is contributing to global warming, while organic bamboo is fighting it.

    (will post another since I'm going to exceed the character max)

  4. When analyzing the environmental impact of cotton, there is also the issue of water usage. According the United Nations, to make one t-shirt from cotton requires 2,500 liters of water, perhaps our most precious resource. It's my understanding that farmers of organic cotton are actively working to reduce the irrigation required, but currently organic cotton is even more thirsty than conventionally grown cotton. Again, compare this to bamboo which requires NO irrigation whatsoever.

    There is also the issue of land usage, which is of global importance today when land use is under enormous pressure by the earth’s 6 billion people. Bamboo yields up to 60 tons per hectare, compared to the 1-2 tons per hectare of organic and conventional cotton. There is also a one-time planting for bamboo, and little care and maintenance are needed.

    I’m not trying to imply that bamboo is absolutely superior to organic cotton when it comes to their impact on the environment, and to some degree it’s apples and oranges. I simply mention the environmental problems with organic cotton in an effort to demonstrate that analyzing one step of the entire process from crop to final product is insufficient in determining how “green” a product actually is. One textile is more environmentally harmful during crop growth, and the other is potentially harmful in processing of the raw material into fiber.

    With respect to processing raw bamboo into fiber, the current method includes the use of caustic soda (also called sodium hydroxide). Caustic soda is approved for use on textiles under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Caustic Soda is used in many industries, and is common in food production. For example, German pretzels are poached in caustic soda before baking which results in their unique crust. Caustic soda is also routinely used in the processing of organic cotton.

    Carbon disulphate is also used in the process. For reference, carbon disulphate is also utilized in veterinary medicine, as a soil disinfectant, and in spray applications to grains. Carbon disulfide evaporates rapidly from water and soil, and breaks down in the atmosphere in about 12 days, but it is toxic at high levels of exposure. Australia gives carbon disulphate an environmental rating of 1.0 on a scale of 0 to 3. A score of 3 represents a very high hazard to the environment and 0 a negligible hazard. The health hazard rating, if exposed to high levels, is 1.7 on a scale of 0 to 3. (Note: I use Australia only because the EPA doesn't provide a rating).

    There is a danger to workers if carbon disulphate is handled irresponsibly. However, when properly handled, the use of carbon disulphate is not harmful to workers or to the surrounding environment. A study done on workers at a factory in China showed levels present that are 35% to 65% less than the maximum exposure levels advised by the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists.

    The use of carbon disulphate in the processing of bamboo is something, unfortunately, that is often left out of the discussion when marketers defend bamboo processing (just as it is unfortunate that much of the discussion on organic cotton is selective on the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and water and land usage).

    It should also be noted that the future of processing bamboo into fiber looks extremely bright. There is a method being developed in the EU that is a completely green cycle with zero safety issues for workers. Small Plum is currently researching this method of processing, and hopes to source the bamboo fabric by the end of the year.

  5. (final post - I promise!)

    All in all, when comparisons are made on the emissions of greenhouse gases and impact on global warming, the application of fertilizers and pesticides (currently used in organic farming as well), the preservation of water usage, the natural harvesting processes, the soil erosion prevention and deforestation implications, and the overall yield and sustainable land use practices, I believe bamboo is a very good green alternative for textiles.

    Before I sign off, I’d like to add that in no way do I intend to present myself as an expert on the subject. As I mentioned, Small Plum is literally just my wife and I. We strive to be as informed as we possibly can, and also conducted a lot of research before producing our apparel, but we’ve only been selling products made from bamboo (or, technically, viscose from organic bamboo) since the beginning of the year. We’re definitely still learning.

    It goes without saying that we would not want to provide information about our products that is not completely accurate. The FTC press release was issued less than two weeks ago and, to be honest, I was first exposed to it through you (thanks!). We plan on contacting the FTC this week, and if we are told that labeling our products as bamboo misrepresents the actual material, then we’ll change our labeling immediately.

    Thanks again and regards,

    Troy & Katie
    Small Plum

  6. Thanks so much for the informative response Troy and Katie. The issues you raised with organic cotton are ones I hadn't considered before. As a new parent I find it's a fine line between what is good for your child and what is good for the earth, and being informed is the best way to make those choices easier. We must choose those items which have the least impact and at the same time recognize that there may be no perfect solution. Frankly, there is no such thing as no impact!