The Federal Trade Commission Wednesday announced that it has reached deals with several retailers over deceptive labeling of fabrics containing rayon.
Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond, J.C. Penney, and Backcountry.com LLC will collectively pay $1.3 million to settle allegations that they falsely labeled items as made with bamboo fiber. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. will pay $500,000, Nordstrom, Inc. will pay $360,000, JCPenney Company, Inc. will pay $290,000; and Backcountry.com will pay $150,000 under the settlement agreement.
Under the federal Textile Fiber Products Identification Act, plant materials like wood fiber and bamboo that undergo a chemical process to be made into a textile usable as fabric must be labeled “rayon.”
Bamboo fiber has been used to make certain items of clothing like belts and bags in Asia at least since the 19th century. But to be used in items like socks or pillow cases that require more versatility and softness, the fiber from bamboo must be rendered into a viscose first.
While some manufacturers say they have found a more environmentally sound way to make bamboo fiber useful as a fabric, most manufacturers use a bamboo textile made into rayon through a chemically based process.
Rayon was developed in the 19th century in Europe and the U.S. and has undergone many changes as various chemists have worked on a variety of ways to better render the tough fibers of wood or grasses like bamboo into soft, silky fabric.
Understandably, in an era when people (especially millennials) are concerned about the environment, it’s tempting to list rayon made from bamboo as simply “bamboo” as the source materials for goods.
But the FTC is having none of that.
“The truth is, most 'bamboo' textile products, if not all, really are rayon, which typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process that emits hazardous pollutants into the air,” writes the FTC in its notice entitled ‘How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Customers.’ “While different plants, including bamboo, can be used as a source material to create rayon, there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.
“If you make, advertise or sell bamboo-based textiles, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that unless a product is made directly with bamboo fiber — often called ‘mechanically processed bamboo’ — it can’t be called bamboo,” the notice continues. “Indeed, to advertise or label a product as 'bamboo,' you need competent and reliable evidence, such as scientific tests and analyses, to show that it’s made of actual bamboo fiber. Relying on other people’s claims isn’t substantiation. The same standard applies to other claims, like a claim that rayon fibers retain natural antimicrobial properties from the bamboo plant.”