August 23 2021 – Diana Aldescu
Welcome back to our weekly fabric blog series! If you liked our viscose article, well, you’d for sure love this one! Keep reading to find out what we’ve prepared for you this week.
This week is all about Tencel, baby. This is a fabric we’ve experimented with a few times and it for sure impressed us! As always, we will not be biased, keeping it 100% real. This article will discuss how Tencel is made, its properties, and its pros and cons. The final question would be, is it worth buying products made from this fabric? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
What are rayon fabrics?
Similar to viscose, Tencel is also part of the rayon fabrics family. Although these fabrics come from natural fibres, they go through a chemical process to get the final, desired fabric. They are neither natural nor synthetic, but somewhere in the middle. They are seen as sustainable materials due to their plant-based nature.
Origins of Tencel
Tencel is still a pretty new fabric but has its history. We go back to 1992, where Tencel Lyocell was introduced to the market by Courtaulds Fibres in the United Kingdom for the first time. This started a new generation of cellulosic fibres, first used in denim. After many industrial trials, the fabric seemed very promising, resulting in the birth of “soft denim”. Now that cotton could be blended with Tencel Lyocell, jeans just became way more comfortable and softer! This quickly became a thing all over Asia, America and Europe.
How is the Tencel fabric made?
Now comes the science side of it all. General information before we dive deeper, Tencel Lyocell fibres come from eucalyptus, beech, birch or spruce trees. Ok, that’s out the way, let’s find out how this is made:
-Tencel Lyocell is only sourced from sustainably managed forests. Certifications such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) can be found on these fabrics.
-The tree is chipped down into wood pulp, getting prepared for the pulp mill. In wood chip production, 100% wood utilisation is used. No pieces left over. This goes into a pulp mill using renewable energy.
-The wood pulp then goes through fibre production where it is mixed with water and organic solvents (99% of the organic solvents are reused with a closed-loop production process)
-The production of Tencel uses far less energy, water and chemicals overall than other rayon fabrics such as viscose
Benefits of the Tencel fabric
We have talked so much about Tencel, it’s finally time to find out what is so great about it.
Botanic origin: Tencel fibres come directly from sustainably managed forests and are harvested from certified and controlled sources. No endangered forests are used in this process.
Long-lasting softness: Tencel fibres are naturally soft due to their smooth surface and high flexibility. The softness of this fabric has been confirmed by a few physical test methods such as Kawabata, TSA and Handle-o-meter. Certified soft, how cool?
Gentle on skin: As mentioned, Tencel fibres are naturally soft to the touch, making this a perfect fabric for sensitive skin. Fun fact, when viewed under a microscope, Tencel fabric displays a smooth surface area.
Colour retention: The colour embedded in the spun-dyed Tencel fibres retain long-lasting vibrancy. They are also less likely to fade after many washes.
Breathability: As Tencel comes from natural materials, these fibres are structured to regulate absorption and release of moisture, supporting the body’s natural thermal regulation.
Strength: Tencel fibres are very versatile and well known for their durability as a fabric among many other cellulose fibres.
And now, some cons
Price: Tencel fibres are far more expensive than other rayon fabrics such as viscose and many other options.
Cleaning & caring: Tencel may not last if it is not taken care of properly. The washing temperature must be carefully controlled and guides must be followed.
Fairly low energy: It is quite difficult for the dyes to bond to the fibres during production due to their low surface energy.
Chemicals: Although the chemicals used in the production of this fabric are non-toxic, they can still agitate your skin if it tends to be sensitive to chemicals.
Now comes the real questions…
Why is Tencel sustainable?
There are many reasons why Tencel is so cool, let’s begin with the first one. A big difference between Tencel and other fabrics using raw natural materials is that Tencel has a very controlled process. The wood pulp used in the production of this fabric comes from sustainable sources and is harvested from certified sources. Tencel fabric also uses a closed-loop production process. This eco-friendly process recycles water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.
It has been certified that all Tencel fibres are biodegradable and compostable under home, industrial, soil, marine and freshwater conditions. They can fully revert to nature.
Tencel fibres are also very economical when it comes to land usage. This uses 5x less land than cotton production.
Why is Tencel not sustainable?
It is fair to say Tencel is pretty sustainable. However, it is important to understand the difference between trademarked Tencel and lyocell. While trademarked Tencel is produced by environmentally responsible processes from sustainably sourced natural materials, lyocell is different. Lyocell blend could contain synthetic fibres that produce microplastics. This may also be produced from endangered forests, unlike trademarked Tencel. The moral of the story, just make sure you’re about to purchase TENCEL™.
How are these issues addressed?
TENCEL™ has some impressive certifications, clearing any confusion out there. Similar to the production of organic cotton, TENCEL™ is USDA certified, meaning it is produced from sustainably managed sources. All the wood pulp used comes and is harvested from well-managed forests, protecting endangered trees.
We mentioned before that Tencel fibres are biodegradable and compostable, but how do we know this? They received a TÜV Austria Belgium NV certification, proving that Tencel fibres can fully revert to nature.
This fabric has a significantly lower environmental impact throughout its entire life cycle. This has been recognised by Eu Ecolabel. Each product is assessed individually for compliance with strict ecological and performance criteria. This is a pretty big deal.
TENCEL™ is so amazing it even received an award. The European Commission awarded TENCEL™ with the European Award for the Environment for its closed-loop production process. This fabric was praised for its high resource efficiency and low ecological impact.
So, should you buy Tencel?
Our answer is yes, you should purchase products made from Tencel. Tencel is an amazing, new invention to other rayon fabrics such as viscose. It is far more sustainable and it is worth buying! We spoke above about all the controlled measures TENCEL™ uses, so keep your eye out for these guys - they are the real deal! It is a cool innovation and we are excited to see more fabrics similar to Tencel take over the market.
If you ever find yourself in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com. We’ll put our sustainability brains together and help you out!