Greenwashing hits outdoor apparel

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The Federal Trade Commission warned 78 companies that they must stop falsely advertising apparel as being bamboo or risk being sued.

The letters were recently sent to retailers like Hanes, Jockey and Target as well as REI, Sports Authority and Even companies like Bamboo Eco Wear, Footprint Bamboo and Green Earth Bamboo were included in the list.

“We need to make sure companies use proper labeling and advertising in their efforts to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers,” David Vladeck, the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection director, said in a statement.

Companies falsely marketing shirts, pants and other products as “bamboo” risk being sued by the FTC if they continue mislabeling them

After all, mislabeling clothes as bamboo when they’re really made from rayon is greenwashing at its finest. Sure rayon is made from the cellulose of plants or trees – including bamboo – but it’s processed with harsh chemicals that release hazardous air pollution, according to the FTC.

Companies like REI have already started changing labels. According to a company spokeswoman, “The co-op has been actively addressing this matter over the past year as concerns emerged around the appropriate marketing of this material.” As an example, she said the company has changed some of their labels to read “viscose from bamboo” instead of claiming it strictly as bamboo.

If the companies don’t correct or replace misleading labels, the FTC could sue them for up to $16,000 per violation – and it has done so in the past.

Edit: some related follow-up reading from a MN bamboo clothing maker

—Ryan Dionne

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.