INBAR spoke to the General Manager of Bambkin, the family-run bamboo business which is bringing modern bamboo design to an international market.
You may not have heard of Bambkin, but you are probably using their products. Established in 1984, the China-based company has become one of the first to recognise bamboo’s international potential, and has been supplying the international furniture retailer IKEA for more than a decade.
Despite its huge success, Bambkin remains a family-run business. Wang Xiaoqing, its General Manager, recounts how her father Jianqin, the company’s Chairman, first decided to experiment with bamboo in the 1980s. The company “used to work a lot with woods, like mahogany, but my father saw how this was destroying the forests. Then he started to think about the amount of bamboo he saw all around him.”
Jianqin realised that this fast-growing grass plant may provide a more sustainable alternative for his company, but the road to developing bamboo products was not easy. After all, according to Xiaoqing, “In the eighties, nobody was using bamboo to make engineered bamboo products. He had to do everything himself.” Industrial bamboo technologies did not exist, and existing timber-processing machines did not work for bamboo. So Jianqin began experimenting with making chopsticks, adapting technologies which he had observed in Japan. Over the years, he cooperated with companies to develop machines which could process bamboo poles, and slowly started expanding his product range.
From humble beginnings, Bambkin has become a giant in bamboo manufacturing. Currently, the company processes an incredible 200 tons of bamboo each day, and expects demand to keep growing. With increasing scale came the ability to control more parts of the process. According to Xiaoqing, Bambkin was “the first bamboo company in China to integrate the entire supply chain, from the forest to the product.” Bambkin owns 3500 hectares of bamboo forest, and employs over 600 locals in managing, harvesting, transporting and creating products from bamboo. Xiaoqing says that this control helps make a global company feel very local. “Bambkin does a lot of work with poverty alleviation in the area.”
A key moment came in 2005, when Bambkin became the first company to supply bamboo products to IKEA. An increasing amount of IKEA’s furniture is made from bamboo; in a 2017 report, IKEA described the plant as “one of our best-selling materials”. More than 90% of IKEA’s bamboo for furniture comes from China, although Bambkin is now providing the company with technical advice on how to start up bamboo furniture operations in other countries.
Xiaoqing is optimistic about the company’s future, and passionate about the role bamboo can play in replacing non-renewable or non-recyclable materials such as plastic. “Bamboo will, it must be, commonplace. We must bring plant products back into daily life.” At the UN climate conference in Madrid last December, Xiaoqing spoke in a panel about bamboo ‘bioplastics’. “It’s local, it’s versatile and it creates many products…. I believe bamboo will be widely used in future.”
More information about Bambkin is available on their website.
INBAR’s most recent Policy Synthesis Report, about bamboo’s role in the circular economy, can be downloaded from here.