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December 20, 2004

Tofu T and Edamame Wrap - Soy clothing is the newest thing in eco-friendly fashion


From China comes soybean clothing.

Yes, they've created a new fiber made from the leftover dregs of soybean oil and tofu production.

Soy-based yarn is being exported by Shanghai Winshow Soybeanfiber Industry Company.

Many hip clothing companies are rolling out soy lines, among them Of The Earth, of Bend, Oregon, which will offer in its 2005 catalog a line of "soy yoga" clothing. (That's their Yoga Top heading this post.)

Mei Fong wrote an informative story for last Friday's Wall Street Journal.

Here's the article.

    Soy Underwear? China Targets Eco-Friendly Clothes Market

    As a boy in China, Li Guanqi used to feed his family's pigs the byproducts of their soybean crops.

    Five decades later, Mr. Li has put the dregs from soybeans to a whole different use: making underwear for people.

    Thousands of urban Chinese are sporting soft, silky underwear spun out of a soybean fiber Mr. Li invented in 1999.

    The cloth, touted as a more ecologically sound alternative to traditional cloth, is starting to hit European and U.S. markets.

    Next spring, the U.S. catalog giant Spiegel plans to feature soybean-fiber halter-top dresses in mocha and pink.

    Pei Haimin, 40, a bank clerk who lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, bought some of the soybean underwear out of curiosity - and liked the lustrous feel so much he splurged on soybean socks.

    "Though they still don't have various colors, styles or products to choose, the material itself is wonderful," he says.

    China is already the world's largest textile manufacturer and exporter. Its $60 billion garment industry is set to grow bigger once international apparel quotas end Dec. 31, when many apparel makers are expected to shift more production to China and India from more costly manufacturing centers in other parts of the world.

    Now China hopes to tap consumers' growing interest in eco-friendly textiles, part of a wider trend in the U.S. and other Western countries to embrace naturally derived products, from foods to cosmetics.

    It's hard to determine whether soybean-fiber garments have real breakout potential.

    The fabric is still new and is mostly sold in China.

    But several designers are already part of the organic clothing trend.

    Giorgio Armani launched an eco-friendly Armani Jeans Collection nine years ago, which now accounts for 15% of his world-wide business.

    Katherine Hamnett uses organic cotton and wool in her collections and the trendy discount-clothing chain Hennes & Mauritz AB is introducing every season about 10 new pieces made of organic cotton in its H&M stores.

    Trade group Organic Trade Exchange of Greenfield, Massachusetts, estimates that the organic clothing industry - clothes made under strict industrial environmental guidelines, such as from pesticide-free crops - takes in some $85 million a year in the U.S. alone.

    China's involvement in the organic textile trade is likely to push down prices for these premium-priced products globally and help take them mainstream, textile producers say.

    Price differentials could narrow to the point where it becomes less of a niche product, says Dodie Hung, spokesman for Chinese apparel company Esquel Group.

    Esquel's cost for organic cotton, which must be handpicked, is about half of what it costs to grow organic cotton in the U.S., currently one of the top exporters of the material in the world.

    Starting next year, British retail giant Marks & Spencer Group PLC says it will buy one-fourth of its organic cotton from China, instead of almost exclusively from Turkey.

    The company's U.K.-based fabric buyer, Graham Burden, says it is anxious to buy more in China since much of its manufacturing is based there.

    Other apparel companies like Hong Kong-based Quick Feat International have also started up farms and factories producing organic cotton, soybean fiber and hemp in China to cater to clients like Marks & Spencer, Nike Inc., and Donna Karan, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

    China has ramped up production of eco-friendly fibers made from hemp and bamboo, durable crops that require little pesticide.

    The Chinese government, meanwhile, is funding research on fabrics made from byproducts of major crops like peanut and rapeseed.

    China's eco-friendly kick could also help improve the nation's environmental record, rated one of the poorest by environmentalists.

    Greenpeace estimates that as much as one-third of China's cotton crop is genetically modified, which it says perpetuates farmers' reliance on pesticides.

    Cashmere, another popular fabric from China for which Mr. Li hopes his soybean fiber can serve as a substitute, is made from fine hairs gathered from the underbelly of certain goats, an industry that has resulted in overgrazing in China's northwestern plains.

    Eco-friendly textiles have another plus for retailers: They command a premium of one-fifth more or so over apparel made from traditional fabrics.

    Cloth made from hemp fetches about $4 to $6 per yard, compared with $3 to $8 for conventional cotton.

    Mr. Li's soybean fiber costs $16 per kilo, or roughly $8 a pound, about 20% pricier than wool and on par with silk.

    Mr. Li, a wiry, 58-year-old businessman from Shanghai, was among the first in China to spot opportunities in eco-textiles.

    Thirteen years ago he read an article on how soybean protein could be spun into fiber.

    The idea seemed simple enough: Take leftover dregs from soybean oil or tofu production, extract protein, and spin the fiber into cloth.

    But figuring out the actual process took more than a decade and gobbled up some $4 million in bank loans and from Mr. Li's savings.

    Mr. Li, who never went to college, consulted with local academics and experimented in his own lab.

    A self-taught scientist, he found that turning soybean protein extract into fiber was easy but creating a fiber strong enough to spin into quality cloth was problematic.

    The soft fibers kept snagging and breaking, and the material spun was porous and difficult to dye.

    In 1999 he finally created a fiber strong enough to spin into cloth by fusing it with organic compounds, and he started mass-manufacturing soy-based yarn.

    Mr. Li's company, Shanghai Winshow Soybeanfiber Industry Co., posted some $7 million in soy garment sales domestically last year and is jointly producing garments with manufacturer Erdos Group Co., based in the town of Erdos in Inner Mongolia.

    Shanghai Winshow - which also makes socks, bras, scarves and sheets - exports finished garments to South Korea and plans to start exporting to the U.S. and Europe next year.

    Numerous foreign companies that supply retailers like Spiegel buy soy yarn from Mr. Li's company and weave it into finished garments.

    Still, Mr. Li is fighting his product's reputation as a tofu waste product. Distributors in the U.S. and Australia are experimenting with various ways of marketing the textile, dubbing the product "soysilk" and "vegetable cashmere."

    "I really wish 'soybean clothes' sounded sexier," says Richard Ziff, who runs Of The Earth, a Bend, Ore., company rolling out a 2005 line of soy yoga clothing.

    Still, giving his products exotic names like Tofu T and Edamame wrap - named after a popular Japanese soybean appetizer - should stoke consumer appetites, he reckons.

December 20, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Edamame clothes? I just can natto believe it.

Posted by: Rocketboy | Oct 31, 2008 9:25:28 PM

I wonder what those organic compounds are that he fuses with the soy to make it strong..

Posted by: K | Oct 31, 2008 1:32:46 PM

Greetings from the mountainous country of Nepal.We have a clothings items and handicarfts all items making factory/garments.we sell /supply our items in a very low cost which aim is to fundraising for the social and humaniterian services in Nepal(supporting to orphans children home,supporting for the medicines to the remote communities health service centers and medical camps).We are capable to making all types of your orders.so that please give us opportunity to working with you.

Our products(Gifts items, clothings items, Handicarfts items) are as follows:

Cap-£.1, Handbag-£ 2, Hat-£ 3, Pourse-£ 1, Passport bag-£1, Bible cover-£1, Pencil case-£ 0.50, coin purse-£ 0.50, Mobile case-£3, shoulder bag-£3, Toilet bag-£ 2, Wall holding-£ 3, Side bag-£ 2, Wallet-£ 2, Skirt-£16, T-shirt-£ 5 ,Shirt-£ 6, Bamboo's clothe-Trouser-£18, Tie-£1, and so on.

Please we invite you to visit us here in Nepal to see our products and to establish your project for long- term good working relationship. our these product will be more and more profitable for you. Please we will be happy to send you some samples through register mail or pictures by email if you wants to see.

please we hope to hearing soon.

God blessing you,

Misheal pariyar

Mamta(lovely) childcare Trust,
G.P.O. 8975, E.P.C.2446
Kathmandu, Nepal

[email protected]
Tel:0977-1-5544832/ mobile:9851068248

Posted by: Misheal | Mar 24, 2008 2:45:08 PM

Dear ,
We want to purchase Soy fabarics & we want to making garments in Bangladesh.

Please confirm who making Soy Fabrics in the world. Please convey us details contact address.

Anil Barua.
General Manager
Kento Asia Ltd.
[email protected]

Posted by: Anil Barua | Aug 28, 2007 9:35:58 AM

i went to babysoyusa.com and bought a few pieces for our daughter. the fabric is super soft and our child loves it. cute design too!

Posted by: alvin | Nov 15, 2006 8:06:18 PM

how much? and have you got in red?

Posted by: rachael | Sep 13, 2006 8:30:55 AM

I found this company Babysoy LLC that offers baby clothes made of soybean fiber. Their website is www.babysoyusa.com. Don't have a baby myself yet, but I will buy a few pieces as a gift for my niece.

Posted by: david | Jul 31, 2006 1:15:23 PM

this is one of the page that gives us idea about the soya bean fabrics yarn......which comes from china

Posted by: ritu.malpani | Nov 29, 2005 10:32:11 AM

How soon before we see it in WAl-MART? I can only dream that soy will replace cotton. Ecologically, soy is far and away a better crop.

Posted by: ScienceChic | Dec 21, 2004 1:01:11 PM

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