Backcountry.com settles with FTC over false 'bamboo' product marketing

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Backcountry.com must pay a civil penalty for falsely marketing rayon products as “bamboo,” the Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday.

Backcountry.com LLC must pay $150,000 for continuing to break the law after receiving warnings from the FTC in 2010, according to a press release from the FTC. Other national retailers were hit with fines, too, totaling more than $1 million.

It’s misleading to say that bamboo that has been chemically processed into rayon is still bamboo, the FTC wrote in guidelines advising retailers “how to avoid bamboozling (their) customers,” as the finished product contains no trace of the original plant.

Rayon “typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process that emits hazardous pollutants into the air,” the FTC wrote.

This screenshot of an older page at Backcountry.com shows the site once advertised the product as a bamboo sock, misleading customers. The FTC included this and many other screenshots in its complaint.

This screenshot of an older page at Backcountry.com shows the site once advertised the product as a bamboo sock, misleading customers. The FTC included this and many other screenshots in its complaint.

Among other items, the online retailer advertised Aventura’s Audra dress as “40 percent bamboo,” and a Dakota Grizzly Gavin Shirt as a blend of bamboo and polyester, the FTC wrote in its complaint, filed Wednesday.

Backcountry.com has since changed its listings for these and other products. The page for the Aventura dress now states it contains "40 percent viscose from bamboo." The retailer once advertised a pair of socks as the “Bridgedale Bamboo Crew Sock,” but now calls the product the “Bridgedale Crew Sock." The URL for the sock still contains "bamboo," and the page comes up in a search for "bamboo" on the site, along with many other apparel items.

Bridgedale advertises the socks on its own website as the "Bamboo Crew," but only retailers were named in the complaint.

Backcountry.com did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

“With consumers in the midst of their holiday shopping, it’s important for them to know that textiles marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives may not be as ‘green’ as they were led to believe,” Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the FTC’s press release.

Other companies that settled with the FTC over the violations are Bed Bath & Beyond, which will pay $500,000, Nordstrom, which will pay $360,000, and J.C. Penney, which will pay $290,000. The penalties are proportionate to the amount of time false advertising allegedly occurred and the amount of products sold during that time, according to a spokesman for the FTC.

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