Talking to friends recently, we realised how confusing and intimidating the world of ethical and sustainable fashion can be. Of course, there’s the whole issue with tracking down brands that meet with your values but beyond that, there’s the whole vernacular that comes with the space and therein lies the challenge of deciphering all the lingo.
That’s why we’re introducing the “What Is…” Series, where we ask the questions many are thinking. (And if we miss anything, let us know @statementsstore.) It makes sense that to encourage a switch to investing in more eco-friendly materials, less-impactful production processes, and look out for specific accreditations, well, it helps if you know what they mean for starters.
SO, WHAT IS TENCEL?
Tencel is made from biodegradable, renewable, sustainably harvested wood pulp. It also happens to be comfortable, lightweight and known for its sexy draping abilities. But beyond that, Tencel is way more eco-friendly than cotton. In fact, cotton uses five times more land than Tencel and requires a lot of upkeep (think fertilisers and pesticides).
But let’s take it back. Tencel is the brand name for the lyocell fibre made from cellulose found in wood pulp. What the hell is cellulose? Essentially, it’s the basic structural component of all plants and it’s what makes plant stems, leaves, and branches so strong. Without such strength we wouldn’t have paper or cotton.
Back to Tencel, or lyocell for that matter. Lyocell is a form of rayon and was first developed in 1972 by a team in North Carolina. It was developed further as Tencel in the 1980s and finally acquired in 2004 by Lenzing, the Austrian textile giant, who kept the brand name Tencel. Lenzing’s Tencel brand is the most widely known lyocell fibre producer in the world.
Image courtesy: Tencel Lenzing
Made from Eucalyptus trees which grow on low-grade land, its production uses 80% less water than cotton. This is because the trees don’t need irrigation, plus Tencel is produced in a closed loop system, which only uses recycled water.
The process of production starts by treating wood chips in such a way that they form into a substance resembling thick paper. The material is then broken down into small pieces and chemically dissolved, then passed through a device with lots of tiny holes. At this point the Tencel comes out as long thin fibres that then go through more chemical processes, followed by washing and drying before being compressed. Finally, Tencel fibres can be spun and then either used alone or blended with other fibres including wool, cotton, silk and other more durable man-made fibres.
The feel and texture of the finished fabric is easily manipulated by blending Tencel with these other fibres resulting in a wide ranging variation from suede to silk. Still considered a synthetic fibre, Tencel falls somewhere in the middle since it’s harvested from all-natural materials and converted into fabric using a sophisticated nanotechnology process.
✔️ Beyond the obvious benefits of softness and strength, the fabric is better than cotton at absorbing moisture and as a result, makes Tencel more breathable, less prone to wrinkles and due to its incredible wicking abilities, anti-bacterial.
✔️ Produced on a “closed-loop system” ?, where 99% of the chemicals and solvents used in the process to break down the wood pulp are recovered and recycled with minimal waste and low emissions.
✔️ Made from eucalyptus trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), they don’t require pesticides or irrigation, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council. Lenzing states it can grow enough trees for a ton of Tencel on half an acre of forestland unsuitable for farming.
✔️ While Tencel requires more energy to produce than conventional natural fibres, Lenzing has committed to using 100% renewable energy for the production process.
Image courtesy: Kendall Jenner in DSTLD’s ankle length skinny jeans made of Tencel
Finding a 100% Tencel piece is rare as many brands mix fibres. However, Lenzing Fibers state that the required blend composition must be a minimum of 30% in order to be able to use the brand name. Do a quick label check.
With all this being said, even if materials are considered “sustainable” they are never so if the clothes they are turned into are consumed at fast rates. To avoid, remember to shop fewer products and check the labels to ensure they are made responsibly.