Humans of Handprint: Meet Julia Washbourne, Founder of Bamboa – A passion like no other


It’s often the individual threads that make the most compelling stories. Welcome to “Humans of Handprint,” a special segment dedicated to shining a spotlight on the incredible individuals who are the driving force behind Handprint’s impactful journey. As we delve into the lives, passions, and experiences of these remarkable people, we discover the heart and soul of organizations that thrive on the dedication and inspiration of its diverse team. 

Join us on this journey as we get to know the faces and voices that breathe life into Handprint’s mission, and witness firsthand the profound impact they have on the world.

We sat down with Julia Washbourne, founder of Bamboa to learn more about what empowered her and how she is making a difference.

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Why did Julia Washbourne start working with bamboo?

All her life, Washbourne has been surrounded by bamboo, from the scaffolding on Hong Kong buildings to household items she uses. She loves the versatility of bamboo and how it regenerates so quickly. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet, releases 35% more oxygen than trees, and absorbs twice as much carbon dioxide as pine and forty times as much as a typical hardwood tree. 

Washbourne fell in love with bamboo in 2005 when she went to China. She saw all the negative impacts of using Plastic bowls and other unsustainable materials. The company she worked at started selling bamboo socks and towels. She began to realize the benefits of bamboo around the world. Bamboo can provide income to rural communities around the world. It also grows best on degraded or destroyed land to prevent soil erosion, landslides and flooding. 

“I came across bamboo and I discovered a whole new world! It was just an incredible discovery!”

Zkq1rjytHow did Bamboa and the Initiative start?

Together with Dr Shyam Paudel, so she decided to go out and start her own bamboo brand. In 2008, she created a boutique retail business called Bamboa, which makes thousands of products all from Bamboo. 

. She started with bamboo floors and decking before going back into household items. In 2020,She started GBI, the Grow Bamboo Initiative.

The Grow Bamboo Initiative started in Nepal, with a bamboo nursery, in a degraded area not far from Kathmandu. In 2022, they grew to Sri-Lanka and started planting bamboo there, led by Swarnamali. They have planted in areas of floods and landslides as bamboo’s roots system helps the area recover. Bamboo’s roots, known as rhizomes, hold the earth together and combine nutrients in the soil. In Nepal, 2000 bamboo plants have been planted. 

What environmental and social issues is Bamboa targeting?

Washbourne’s biggest goal has been to work against deforestation. The worst climate issue for her is that we are losing thousands square miles of rainforests. She believes it is not talked about enough and there is too much focus on cutting carbon emissions. Not enough resources are put into protecting the rainforest. Bamboo is a natural solution to this issue.

“It’s been an issue for years since I was teenager.”

Many projects have been brought up about creating sustainable projects from bamboo and tree resin, but governments have shot them down in favour of cheaper solutions. A key example of this that Washbourne highlights is when a Ford car was created from bamboo trees, but it was not allowed to be manufactured. 

Who has influenced Washbourne’s work and passion?

Throughout Washbourne’s life she has met many people who have influenced her. The International Network of Bamboo and Rattan, have led many conferences about Bamboo. Washbourne has been to many and was invited to be speaker in a conference in South Africa. She found like-minded people there and was able to connect with other people. In 2008, she met with John Hardy and Elora Hardy, a big bamboo spokesperson, who influenced her. They built villas entirely with bamboo and kept her on her bamboo path and mission. 

“Once you find your passion, it’s amazing how resilient you can be.”

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The biggest challenge to her mission is the power of the plastic and cotton industries. The Cotton industry is heavily subsidised by the government and it is very cheap and common to use. Educating people is the only way to counteract this issue. Cotton is a very polluting material, it takes gallons of water and many pesticides are used. Governments and large corporations have always been against new innovations, due to the economic bonuses of the cotton industry. 

How has Handprint and their Partners helped The Bamboo Initiative?

She has found it wonderful to be recognized as a partner with Handprint. Handprint has helped her share many success stories of bamboo and educate more people on the benefits. Together, 3000 bamboo trees have been planted all over Sri-Lanka. Other than the original trees, Handprint and their partners have planted all the other Bamboo trees. 

Much more work needs to be done to help the planet, but bamboo is the way to go for regenerating used earth. The environmental benefits are key to the world’s regrowth and Julia Washbourne and Bamboa have already made a difference and are on their way to making an even greater one. 

Want to know more? Visit The Bamboo Initiative at Bamboa Home, and check out the store in Hong Kong PMQ.