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Bamboo kitchen items.

Thanks to emerging technologies that allow the fast-growing plant to be made into a luxuriously soft fabric, bamboo has recently earned status as the new darling of design and fashion. It’s growing abundantly at the high-end level, with designers such as Lily McNeal, Arnold Brant and Linda Lundström using it in their fashion collections.

It’s also sprouting up in the mass market, with mainstream retailers such as Oqoqo, sister brand to Lululemon, stocking bamboo items. Wal-Mart is in on the game, too, having recently added bamboo sheets and towels to its selection.

Designers like to work with it and consumers like to buy it because bamboo has incredible qualities.

For starters, it’s soft like cashmere. Plus, it’s drapey like rayon. It’s highly absorbent. In hot temperatures, it stays about 2°C cooler than the surrounding air. It’s naturally antibacterial. It’s washable. It’s hypoallergenic. It costs about the same as cotton.

Bamboo is also the most sustainable textile material available on the planet today.

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Bamboo bowls, $18 to $30, at Ma Zone, 63 Jarvis St.

The plant, which is classified as a grass, thrives in many different climates without the use of pesticides, fertilizers or irrigation. It’s incredibly fast growing, shooting up as much as 45 centimetres per day and reaching maximum heights of up to 30 metres. After harvesting, it regenerates to full size within three years without replanting.

These qualities have led some to label bamboo the saviour of the garment industry, with the potential to lessen our dependence on cotton — one of the most chemically treated crops in the world.

"The consumer is really making it happen," says Michael Correoso, owner of Thynque, a Toronto bamboo apparel distribution company. "They’re telling the industry, ‘We want products that are sustainable, that are going to take us into the future.’"

Adds Linda Lundström: "There have been companies that have gone out of business trying to create environmentally responsible fabrics." Still, she tested bamboo prototypes earlier this year and found them to be soft and drapey. Then, when she realized the price was comparable to cotton, "fireworks went off," and she designed an entire collection of bamboo items for spring 2007.

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