24/01/18 What Even Is Modal?

New year, new you, new shopping habits, right? We thought so. Nice. And you’re not alone.  

The fashion biz is pressing reset and turning on to a whole new set of fabrics that go beyond the polyesters and synthetics of the past to find solutions that are both eco-friendly and fashion-forward. It’s about time. 

To get you on your way, we want to equip you with the basics. The needs to know. The words on labelling or descriptions that have you grabbing your phone and heading straight for google. Save yourself the hassle and get to grips with the commonly used terms associated with ethical and sustainable fashion. That way you make smart fashion choices and you look half as smart as that friend that knows everything.  

Next up on our eco-fabric list is Modal, a semi-synthetic fibre, finding its star power in the age of activewear. A type of rayon fabric much like Tencel but in this case made from beech trees, its natural composition makes it super breathable.

With the rise of activewear and the demand for breathable and absorbent fabrics in everyday life, this cotton alternative is commonly used in the manufacture of underwear, pyjamas, bathrobes, bed sheets and much more.

 

       

 

Modal fibre is the generic name for a semi-synthetic rayon, which was originally developed in Japan in 1951. Today the go-to producer of modal is the Austrian company Lenzing AG, who market their version under the name Lenzing Modal® and was recognised by the European Commission in 2000 with an award for its eco-advances in sustainable technology.

However, with the rise in popularity of fashionable activewear, this soft and stretchy fabric is more in demand than ever, leading to various forms of modal being produced by manufacturers around the world, including China Modal and Formatex.

Although many small ethical brands use modal as a green alternative, the fabric may not be as sustainable a choice as you’ve been lead to believe. More on that to come!

How is it made?

Breathable and silky smooth to the touch, modal is around 50% more water-absorbent per unit volume than cotton. Boasting similar properties to other cellulose fibres, it’s designed to absorb the dye and stay colour-fast when washed in warm water, making it a popular choice in the manufacture of underwear and activewear alike.

With an impressive resistance to shrinkage and pilling, it’s worth noting that modal may be used on its own or in a textile blend.The manufacturing process involves spinning reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. Basically, the wood fibres are pulped into liquid form and forced through tiny holes to create the fibre. This is then woven to make the modal fabric.

 

lenzing modal graph

Image courtesy: lenzing-fibers.com

Since the fabric can be either knitted or woven, it’s very soft and drapes well. In fact, Modal actually resists creasing and has a smooth lustrous finish. Think key workwear or luxe travel apparel. And since modal is both absorbent and breathable, it’s always cool to the touch. Couple that with the fabric pilling less and holding its colour when washed, this fabric is super popular.

While Lenzing Modal has developed innovative environmental processes for the manufacture of Lenzing Modal, they are not commercially available to others. These non-toxic technologies have allowed Lenzing to recover up to 95% of Modal’s production materials, minimising emissions and conserving resources. As well as this, Lenzing Modal is harvested from sustainably managed beech tree plantations in Austria and surrounding European countries. However, the origins of other modal fibres on the market often have less transparent origins. 

 

sustainable fashion modal rocky barnes

Image courtesy: Fashion blogger Rocky Barnes in MeUndies, using Lenzing Modal

Sadly, Modal garments manufactured in China are often made with Indonesian modal,which has been accused by the Rainforest Action Network of forest destruction in Indonesia.

Canopy’s research has found that fiber from forests are routinely making their way into fabrics, contributing to the deforestation of the tropical rain forests of Indonesia and the fragmentation of North America’s temperate rain forests. Trees are broken down into dissolving pulp through a chemically intensive and notably inefficient pulping process.

Where does that leave you? When on the search, try to preference modal garments manufactured in Europe and North America and avoid those from Indonesia and China.