Tencel is an eco-friendly fabric that’s perfect for conscious shoppers. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, used in everything from under-layers to underwear, shirts to sports clothes.
Let’s face it, sustainable materials are essential for helping move fashion towards an environmentally friendly future (which is long overdue might we add). Here we are going to uncover why Tencel fabric is so sustainable, ethical and eco friendly.
Spoiler, it’s about as good as it gets.
But before we dive in, let’s start with the basics. What is Tencel?
TENCEL is a soft, sustainable fabric made by Austrian company Lenzing AG. Tencel is a natural fibre made from wood pulp, most commonly from eucalyptus but also beech, birch and spruce trees. It’s known for its gentle texture and super soft feel.
These exquisitely soft fabrics glide across the skin, making it ideal for thermal layers to outwear. It has become increasingly popular, even starting to appear in some high street fashion outlets.
As well as being incredibly soft, Tencel fibres are formed in such a way that gives it strength, moisture wicking performance and flexibility. This also makes Tencel clothing breathable and great for sensitive skin, key benefits of tencel.
Now for the amazing secret, Tencel is made through a sustainable process that breaks down wood and cellulose of sustainably harvested Eucalyptus trees. These trees grow without pesticides, fertilisers or irrigation. So how is Tencel made?
So you now know that Tencel is a natural fibre made from wood pulp, you may be wondering how wood pulp is turned into fabric. It’s a good question.
Wood chips are first chemically dissolved into a pulp. This may not sound particularly sustainable, but Lenzing AG has a little secret. They are able to recover over 99% of the solvents used, making Tencel production incredibly sustainable. The chemicals used to break down the wood are also non-toxic and eco-friendly.
Once this solvent is made, it is then pushed through a spinneret (looks like a showerhead). This process creates fine threads that can be spun into yarn.
If you want to read more about the history of tencel and the three generations of modal fibres, read this.
Is tencel sustainable and eco friendly? In short, yes! Tencel is one of the most sustainable fabrics, largely because of the environmentally friendly techniques used to make the material.
The chemical solvent used to break down the wood into pulp is non-toxic, so has a very low environmental impact. More than 99% of it can also be recovered and reused, making this an incredibly sustainable closed loop process with almost no waste.
It requires a lot less energy and water to make compared to materials like conventional cotton. As a plant derived fibre, it is also biodegradable. But always check the label to ensure it hasn’t been mixed with other synthetic fibres before disposing of the garment.
The raw fabric that’s produced is also pure white, meaning no bleaching is needed to strip the fibre of colour before dying (unlike cotton).
TENCEL™ has the guarantee that it sources all wood from sustainably harvested eucalyptus forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This means that proper forest management is ensured to sustain, conserve and restore forests for future generations to enjoy.
As a result, Tencel has won numerous awards including the European Award for the Environment. It also carries the Oeko Tex 100 certification that guarantees no harmful substances are contained within the fibres of the material.
There are other materials that are deemed more sustainable, such as organic hemp and recycled cotton. Tencel is still one of the best sustainable and ethical fabrics out there, which is why a lot of sustainable fashion brands are using it.
Tencel can be bad for the environment if blended with less sustainable fabrics. Anything carrying the TENCEL™ brand name must carry a minimum of 30% Lenzing’s TENCEL™ fibres. This leaves 70% of the fabric that can be blended with alternatives.
It is not uncommon that tencel will contain blends and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton can be used to bulk up tencel, giving it more volume and a thicker feel.
Just try to avoid synthetic fibre or regular cotton blends as this will make the finished tencel product less eco friendly. So our parting advice, always check the fabric label is trying to shop sustainably.
The TENCEL™ brand is a sign of trust, but there are also other innovative brands out there making their own lyocell fabrics with minimal impact on the planet.
Excel is a good example of a similar sustainable brand of lyocell fabric manufactured by textile company Birla. But there is even more promise for sustainable lyocell fibres of the future.
Introducing Re:Newcell, the sci-fi sounding material that sounds like it’s straight out of a comic book. This amazing new martial which is also marketed as Circulose® has the potential to revolutionise the circular economy. Commercially viable from 2019, it breaks down old natural materials like cotton or flax into new lyocell fabric. It marks the first significant step towards a closed-loop system.
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