Tencel pros and cons

Tencel pros and cons

{ Tencel production (picture via Google) }

I have previously talked about my two favourite natural materials; organic organic cotton and wool. Now I want to discuss my current favourite material; Tencel. Tencel is a manmade fibre, originally produced to compete with another manmade fibre called rayon, maybe better known as viscose. Viscose was originally patented by a British chemist in 1892, and was thought to be a substitute for silk. It has many of the same qualities, but is less expensive to produce. Looking at viscose’s environmental impact is interesting as it is a manmade fibre and not a synthetic one, meaning it is chemically produced from cellulose, which is a substance derived from the cell walls of plants. Trees such as beech, allow cellulose to be regenerated with relatively little ecological impact, as it is derived from a natural material it is biodegradable. Nevertheless, the production of viscose is highly energy intensive, and far from eco friendly. It requires that wood be ground into pulp and spun, which is a process that requires multiple trips around the factory. The energy needed to simply run such large factories is also vast. Furthermore, the production of viscose is exceptionally polluting to both air and water.

And this is where Lyocell, better known as Tencel enters the picture. Courtaulds Fibres invented Tencel in 1987 with the intention of creating something that could compete with the cost and physical characteristics of viscose, but that was also ecologically sustainable. Like viscose, Tencel is derived from cellulose from easily grown trees, such as beech, pine and eucalyptus. Unlike other cellulose fibres, Tencel is utilising a closed loop manufacturing process, meaning all but 0.05 per cent of the non-toxic chemical solvent and water used for the fibre’s production are reclaimed and used again. The process remains energy intensive, but waste is almost entirely eliminated. Furthermore, the factories producing Tencel are designed and operated to achieve low levels of emissions and minimize energy consumption. Because Tencel was designed to reduce the environmental impact, the forests from which its cellulose is obtained are also carefully managed and harvested.

In addition to the closed loop manufacturing process, Tencel has many characteristics that have established it as an important sustainable fibre. It shares many qualities with cotton, and is fully biodegradable. It has the strength of synthetic fibres, and it can be easily blended with other materials for even higher performance characteristics (however, when doing so, depending on the fibre it is blended with, it might loose it’s biodegradability).

Perhaps most importantly, the success of the Tencel manufacturing process has provided a template for the potential improvement of production methods for other fibres.

One of my favourite brands; Reformation (I have previously talked about my love for the LA based brand, in this Brand Feature and when I showed my new winter jacket), use Tencel instead of cotton in their classic tees, but it’s so expensive to have it imported to Europe, plus there’s the whole talk about CO2 emissions having it transported here, so I have been looking for other Tencel garments everywhere. Last week I finally found it. In H&M of all places. I have been looking for a classic blue shirt for a while and while looking though H&M’s conscious collection I found a shirt made from 100% Tencel and it is perfect. I can’t wait to show it to you.

Source: “Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future” by Jennifer Farley Gordon & Colleen Hill

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