What is Tencel™?

Ever heard of Tencel fiber? If you are into fabric that is good for the environment and at the same time feels great on your skin, you will be thrilled to find out that Tencel satisfies all these requirements.

Tencel is actually the brand name owned by an Austrian company called Lenzing AG for a set of fibers called lyocell and modal. These are types of rayon or viscose that are made from a combination of natural materials (cellulose from trees) and synthetic materials (chemical solvents). So, they are part natural and part synthetic (known as regenerated cellulose fibers or man-made cellulosic fibers).

Commonly known to be super soft, lightweight, and breathable, they are frequently used to make a wide range of clothing from underwear, t-shirts, active-wear and even beddings.

Tencel is sourced from sustainably managed forests and the manufacturing process is environmentally responsible from start to finish. No wonder it is the common go-to fabric for many eco-conscious fashion lovers.

Right, we are big fans of Tencel, and want you to know all the reasons why it is living up to the hype. So let’s dive in.

How Is Tencel Made?

Tencel™ Lyocell and Modal fibers are both regenerated from wood cellulose where the wood is chipped, cellulose extracted, washed, and finally bleached in a totally chlorine free process[1] to create pulp sheets or flakes. The steps used subsequently to convert the pulp into fiber are different for Tencel™ Lyocell and Modal.

Tencel™ Modal fibers are produced using a modified viscose process[1] which involves submerging the pulp in sodium hydroxide. Once the pulps are broken into small pieces, they are soaked in carbon disulfate which produces an orange substance called sodium cellulose xanthate. The solution is then pushed through a spinneret (think of a showerhead with many holes) to form filaments which are subsequently cut into a staple fiber length. After continuous rounds of bleaching and washing, the fiber is then dried and ready to be packed.

Tencel™ Lyocell, on the other hand, is produced in a less chemically complex process[1].  The pulp is directly dissolved in the organic solvent N-Methylmorpholine-N-oxide (NMMO) to form a solution called dope. The cellulosic solution is then filtered to remove undesired particles. Like modal fibers, the solution is pushed through a spinneret to form filaments and the staple fiber is then treated, washed, and finally dried.

Lenzing does not however sell Tencel fabric or make ready-to-wear from Tencel fabric. Instead, they sell Tencel™ Lyocell and Modal fibers to other manufacturers who in turn convert the fibers into yarns and subsequently fabric.

What Makes Tencel Sustainable?

The production process for turning the wood pulp into modal fiber is relatively more chemically intensive than the one used for lyocell fiber and can be somewhat wasteful, requiring lots of energy and chemicals. However, it really boils down to who is making it and how it is made. Since not all modal is created equally, it is important to consider the manufacturing process and the sourcing policy of the manufacturers.

If the manufacturer is Lenzing, you can be rest assured that strict guidelines are being followed. In fact, Lenzing claims that the production of Tencel™. Modal has a high recovery rate[2] of process ingredients such as carbon disulfide and sulphur from waste gas streams, so that they can be reused in the process again. Similarly, the closed loop production[2] in the lyocell process ensures that more than 99% of water and solvents are recovered and reused again and again to produce new fibers. This helps to decrease water and air pollution, while also reducing the usage of water and chemicals significantly.

While other manufacturers may also produce generic viscose and modal, most don’t follow the strict standards used by Lenzing. In fact, the “Dirty Report”[3] highlighted that many viscose factories in India, Indonesia and China did not have adequate chemical management and water treatment systems.  This has significant effects on marine life and agriculture as well as factory workers. The workers and the communities often face severe health problems as a result of being exposed to the harmful chemicals.

Since cellulosic fibers are originally coming from trees, reports from Canopy, a Canadian NGO, claims that increasingly more trees are being logged in the manufacture of dissolving pulps. Furthermore, more than one third of the wood fiber used in clothes is still at high risk of coming from ancient and endangered forests[4].  To ensure that modal or lyocell is one of the best fabrics for our environment, it should come from a trusted manufacturer who has sustainable sourcing practices. In fact, Lenzing states that more than 99% of the raw materials of wood or wood pulp sourced by Lenzing are verified based on FSC and PEFC certifications or inspected in line with these standards[5]. Verification with these standards ensures that ancient and endangered forests are not being cut down and wood is traceable to socially and environmentally responsible managed forests.

As a plant-derived fiber, Tencel fiber is also certified to be biodegradable and compostable, so they can fully revert to nature (if they are not mixed with other synthetic fibers) after the garment’s end of life. Therefore, it provides an environmentally responsible alternative to fossil-based plastic materials in textiles.

Why Do We Love Tencel? 

Okay,  so now you know how it's made. But there’s more to it. You'll also be happy to know that fabric made of Tencel™ Lyocell feels soft and comfortable, highly breathable, absorbent and helps with temperature regulation. It is also wrinkle-resistant and easier to take care of. The excellent drape, which Tencel™ Lyocell is widely known for, flatters any body shape. Depending on thickness and texture, Tencel™ Lyocell fabric adapts to a wide range of products, from flowy dresses to jogger pants to bedsheets.

Tencel™ Modal on the other hand is slightly softer and more delicate than lyocell. It is also known for being exquisitely comfortable and pleasant to the skin. It is also extremely breathable, doesn’t shrink or crease, making it a good material for activewear, pajamas, undies and t-shirts.

Shop Products Made With Tencel

Tencel™ Lyocell and Modal are both popular eco-friendly fibers for a reason. It outperforms in terms of sustainability and comfort compared to many other types of fibers. If you want to look good, feel good, and do good for the environment, how about trying some of our favorite products made with Tencel?

Reversible Tie Top - Cloud

Tencel ™ Ribbed Sleeveless Turtleneck - Pecan

Tencel ™ Ribbed Sleeveless Turtleneck - Eggnog

References

[1] Lenzing Group. (2019). Focus Paper on Responsible Production. Retrieved from https://www.lenzing.com/index.php?type=88245&tx_filedownloads_file%5bfileName%5d=fileadmin/content/PDF/04_Nachhaltigkeit/Broschueren/EN/focus-paper-responsible-production-EN.pdf.

[2] Lenzing Group. (2018). TENCEL General Leaflet. Retrieved from https://www.tencel.com/images/assets/downloads/TENCEL_General_Leaflet_Preview_V1-4_20180531.pdf

[3] Changing Market Foundation (2017). Dirty Fashion. Retrieved from  http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CHANGING_MARKETS_DIRTY_FASHION_REPORT_SPREAD_WEB.pdf

[4] Canopy (2018). CanopyStyle 5 Year Anniversary Report. Retrieved from https://canopyplanet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CanopyStyle-5th-Anniversary-Report.pdf

[5] Lenzing Group. (2021). Focus Paper on Wood and pulp. Retrieved fromhttps://www.lenzing.com/index.php?type=88245&tx_filedownloads_file%5bfileName%5d=fileadmin/content/PDF/04_Nachhaltigkeit/Broschueren/EN/focus-paper-wood-pulp-EN.pdf

 

All stock images are sourced from Unsplash and Canva

 

 

 

Written by Shufen Lee


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