Bamboo-zled: FTC says retailers fibbed about bamboo product claims

If you've bought a wonderfully smooth, silky feeling piece of clothing supposedly made from environmentally-friendly bamboo -- chances are you've been duped.

More than six dozen companies -- including some of the nation's biggest retailers -- are being warned by the Federal Trade Commission to stop mislabeling clothing and textiles made of rayon as being made from bamboo. In all, the FTC contacted 78 companies, including Wal-Mart, Target, Saks and Nordstrom, that they could be in violation of federal law by making the claim.
"Using the term bamboo may appeal to many eco-conscious consumers," James Kohm, the FTC's Enforcement Division director told WalletPop. "These consumers, however, may be concerned about products made from bamboo that involve significant chemical processing, such as rayon. We want to make sure that consumers are not misled."

Rayon is made from plants and trees, bamboo included, but it must go through a chemically-intensive process that results in a considerable amount of pollution -- a fact that runs contrary to the environmentally-friendly claims of bamboo clothing.

Clothing made using bamboo fibers is not of the same silky smooth consistency as those made with rayon, the FTC said. Once bamboo or any other tree is turned into rayon, it is misleading to claim it is anything other than rayon because of the chemical bath used to convert the material from a natural product into rayon. It can be called "rayon made from bamboo," which isn't misleading as long as you understand there's nothing environmentally friendly about rayon.

A Macys spokeswoman said the company understand the rules and considers the FTC letter a "reminder."

"Macy's appreciates the FTC reminder that textiles made of bamboo fibers with the rayon process are to be labeled as 'rayon' or 'rayon made from bamboo.' We will remind our vendors and our people of the labeling and advertising requirements," spokeswoman Beth Charlton told WalletPop.

Several "eco-friendly" clothing lines and retailers received letters from the FTC, including:
  • The Gap
  • Tommy Bahama
  • QVC
  • Saks
  • Kmart
  • Land's End
  • Kohl's
  • Wal-Mart
  • Target
  • Saks
  • Nordstrom
The FTC has sued companies over the labeling and has decided to put an end to the practice entirely. It even created a web page dedicated to the issue. Failure to heed the warning, could result in fines of up to $16,000 per violation. A full list of the companies that have received the warning can be found here.

Attempts to reach some of the retailers and trade associations for comment were not immediately successful.

In August, the FTC filed complaints against a collection of companies using such names on their products as "ecoKashmere," "Pure Bamboo," "Bamboo Comfort," and "BambooBaby." All those claims have since been settled with agreements by the companies to stop deceptively marketing their products.
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