Tencel, the eco friendly fabric that’s supposedly good for the environment. Is it really the sustainable material of the future or is it too good to be true?
Here at Cariki, we believe that sustainable materials are essential for helping move fashion towards an environmentally friendly future (which is long overdue might we add). That’s why we’ve made this blog post, to help find out the truth about whether tencel is as sustainable and eco friendly as people claim or just another greenwashing fabric.
**Spoiler, it’s about as good as it gets.
But before we start, let’s make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to what tencel means.
Tencel is a natural fibre that’s made from wood pulp, most commonly from eucalyptus but also beech, birch and spruce trees. You may be wondering how wood pulp is turned into fabric, it’s a good question.
Wood chips are chemically dissolved into a pulp which is then pushed through a spinneret (looks like a showerhead). This process creates fine threads that can be spun into yarn. Although tencel is made from wood, it involves chemical processing so is technically man made and cannot be classed as natural. With this being said it also doesn’t qualify as synthetic, so is placed somewhere in-between as a “regenerated cellulosic fibre”.
We are going to spare the detail about the three generations of “regenerated cellulosic fibres” which are rayon (generation 1), modal (generation 2), and lyocell (generation 3 - which tencel is a part of), but for those of you who are interested you can read more about it here.
For now what’s important to know is that tencel is technically lyocell fabric, a name you may well already be familiar with. Lyocell is the generic name given to all third generation regenerated cellulosic fibres. The difference between tencel and lyocell is a matter of branding.
TENCEL™ is the trademarked brand name of sustainable Lyocell fabrics manufactured by Austrian company Lenzing AG. In fact tencel has become so popular that it is often commonly used to refer to all lyocell fabric, similar to how Coke is used to refer to cola soft drinks. Tencel is therefore just a brand name for one company’s lyocell fabric.
Is tencel sustainable and eco friendly? In short, yes!
TENCEL™ is a very sustainable fabric. It has won numerous awards and has even received the European Award for the Environment.
This is largely due to the environmentally friendly process that all lyocell fabrics are made through. Lyocell fabrics are first dissolved from wood into pulp with a non-toxic amine oxide solution. Unlike rayon and modal, this amine oxide does not pose any threat to the environment and can be almost entirely recovered and reused. Lenzing’s TENCEL™ Lyocell recovers over 99% of this solvent, with the remaining 1% being safely decomposed in biological purification plants.
TENCEL™ also 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.
There are a number of other benefits that means tencel is good for the environment. Lenzing’s TENCEL™ Lyocell is manufactured in a highly efficient production process that is powered by bioenergy. No water pollution is created by the production process, nor is bleach needed to strip colour from the raw material (unlike cotton). Pure tencel is also 100% compostable and can easily biodegrade through home composting. The result is that TENCEL™ carries the Oeko Tex 100 certification that guarantees no harmful substances are contained within the fibres of the material.
Before we skip with joy to the few high street shops that sell tencel, there are a few things to be wary of.
Does this all sound too good to be true? Why isn’t everyone rushing out to buy tencel if it is such an environmentally friendly fabric. Well there are some cons of tencel that you should be aware of.
Tencel and lyocell are very sustainable fabrics when you buy them from responsibly sourced manufacturers. Yet there are times when you might want to approach tencel with caution.
Tencel can be bad for the environment if blended with less sustainable fabrics. Anything carrying the TENCEL™ brand 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 be in 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.
It’s also worth remembering the difference between Lenzing’s branded Tencel and generic lyocell. Although they are the same material made through the same manufacturing process, there is no guarantee that the wood sourced to make lyocell is from sustainably managed forests. Nor is there evidence that strict waste reduction policies, water pollution and energy consumption is being carefully monitored.
Of course we are not saying that all non-branded lyocell is bad for the environment. More often then not they will be following a similarly rigorous sustainable agenda as the official tencel brand. Transparency is key. Don’t feel afraid to get in touch to ask basic questions around sourcing the raw material or employee guidelines. Any hesitation from their side is likely a bad sign.
The TENCEL™ brand is a sign of trust, but there are also other innovative brands out there making their own lyocell fabrics with high sustainable credentials.
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 fabrics of the future.
Introducing Re:Newcell, the sci-fi sounding material that reads 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 fibres like cotton or flax into new lyocell fabric. It marks the first significant step towards a closed loop system.
Want to know more? So did we, so we have written the following which you might find interesting:
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