Answer: TENCEL™ Lyocell is very sustainable.
But we know you’ll be looking for more detail than that! So here’s our report on why we think TENCEL™ Lyocell is one of the most sustainable fibres on the market.
What is TENCEL™ Lyocell?
If you’re familiar with slow fashion, it’s likely you already know something about TENCEL™ Lyocell, a botanic (aka plant-based) fibre made from wood cellulose. It receives a lot of attention from fans of sustainability, who praise TENCEL™ Lyocell’s unparalleled softness and low environmental impact.
The process behind cellulose fibres is itself pretty fascinating: it involves dissolving wood chips into a liquid pulp before drying and respinning what’s left into a smooth fibre that can then be used in fashion. Turning a tree into a tee sounds a lot like botanical alchemy. But this alone does not guarantee a light environmental footprint. While lyocell is a generic term for some fibres made this way, TENCEL™ is the gold standard in sustainability. What makes TENCEL™ Lyocell so special is how its manufacturers - Austrian powerhouse Lenzing AG - have managed to refine and refine the process to make it as efficient and eco-friendly as possible. For example, TENCEL™ Lyocell is sourced almost exclusively from certified sustainably managed forests. Ancient and endangered tree species are left well alone, protecting biodiversity and forest health. More than 99% of the solvents used in the process are recovered and used again, reducing waste and pollution. Any water used is either recycled or cleaned before being returned to natural water systems preventing both river and ocean pollution.
As it absorbs colour very effectively, TENCEL™ Lyocell also requires a lot less dye than cotton. Unlike synthetic materials, TENCEL™ lyocell biodegrades in land and water conditions, making it safer for the environment in that respect too.
Cons of TENCEL™ Lyocell
Even though the process avoids ecological contamination, that TENCEL™ Lyocell requires the use of any chemicals at all is sometimes perceived negatively. Or at least, this is the reason eco clothing directory, good on you, consider TENCEL™ fibres to be less eco-friendly than recycled cotton or organic linen - which don’t require chemicals. They do note, however, that TENCEL™ fibres are environmentally superior to other wood-based cellulosic fibres like generic viscose and generic rayon, as well as conventional cotton and polyester.
Is TENCEL™ Lyocell a good fibre?
Yes, as well as being sustainable, TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres can be turned into a very comfortable and wearable fabric. The texture and draping characteristics of this material often draws comparisons to silk, while sweat-wicking properties make it fresher than natural fibres. TENCEL™ Lyocell has a subtle sheen, which differentiates it from any other fibre. If trees could make clothing, this is what it would look and feel like!
When we quizzed Lenzing on their star fibres back in 2021, product manager Caroline Ledl had this to say: “(TENCEL™ Lyocell and modal) offer consumers a very gentle touch, a great softness but also other wearing comforts such as enhanced breathability so you just love the garments that you are wearing, and in addition to that they are sustainably made and we know that consumers really look into sustainable materials.” TENCEL™ Lyocell is also an incredibly versatile fibre. Back in the 90s it was used in jeans, playing a vital role in the soft denim trend. It has excellent absorption properties - taking up 50% more water than cotton - making it good for activewear. Meanwhile the way it drapes over the body allows it to be utilised in sustainable dresses and eco shirts and even jumpsuits. For lovers of TENCEL™ Lyocell, the sky’s the limit!
Last year TENCEL™ Lyocell made up 8% of the total fibre share in our clothing, coming in third behind recycled materials and organic cotton. You’ll often find TENCEL™ Lyocell featured in our New In Men and New In Women - it’s a sustainable raw material well worth trying out and cherishing forever.
The Next Level: TENCEL™ X REFIBRA™
Lenzing continues to be an innovator in the textile industry, as exemplified by their pioneering REFIBRA™ technology. This blends sustainably sourced wood chips with cotton scraps (from clothing factories and post-consumer clothing) to produce a fibre that shows no difference in quality to regular TENCEL™ lyocell! The two source materials are mixed together in the same “closed-loop” system that produces regular TENCEL™ fibres at a ratio of 20%-30% of cotton scraps to 70%-80% wood chips. Lenzing say they intend to increase the percentage of upcycled post-consumer cotton in this fibre to 50% by 2025.
You’ll find TENCEL™ X REFIBRA™ fibres in a select number of deluxe TWOTHIRDS styles.
TENCEL™ and REFIBRA™ are trademarks of Lenzing AG.