27 Jul

Material Guide: How Ethical is Tencel?

Tencel is increasingly the fabric of choice for ethical and conscious clothing brands.  It’s light and versatile, and is widely used in casual wear. But what is Tencel? We’ve put together a cheatsheet to help demystify this fabric and put the power back in your hands.

What is Tencel?

Tencel is actually a brand name for a type of lyocell, or sometimes modal material. TENCEL® is produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG.

How is Tencel made?

Tencel is a cellulose fibre, which is made by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning. Before it is dried, wood chips are mixed with a solvent to produce a wet mixture. The mixture is then pushed through small holes to form threads, which is then chemically treated and the lengths of fibre are spun into yarn and woven into cloth.

According to Lenzing AG, Tencel has incredible absorption characteristics and is 50% more absorbent than cotton. Because they’re more breathable and less susceptible to odorous bacteria growth, these fabrics are perfect for a sweaty gym or bikram yoga session, making them ideal for activewear.

How does Tencel impact the environment?

As is the case with most textiles, Tencel production has both positive and negative impacts on the environment. Like cotton and bamboo, Tencel is made from plant materials. However manufacturing Tencel requires less energy and water than cotton. As a naturally derived fibre, Tencel is also biodegradable.

Lenzing says it sources its wood and pulp from certified and controlled sources like sustainably managed plantations.

The solvents used to turn the wood pulp into fibre are made using petrochemicals. However the closed loop production process, means that the solvent is recycled time and time again to produce new fibres and minimise harmful waste. Lenzing Group says the solvent recovery rate is 99%.

Although it is mixed with conventional dyes, which can be harmful to the environment, lyocell requires a lot less dye than cotton. Lenzing AG was presented with a European Award for the Environment from the European Union for developing this process, called REFIBRA™ technology.

The main concern with Tencel fabric is the use of energy during the production process. This is something that Lenzing AG have acknowledged and are working to address by increasing their use of renewable energy sources.

Other sources of lyocell

Lyocell fabric is also manufactured by a company called Birla, under the name Excel.  In 2017, the Rainforest Alliance assessed Birla as being of low risk of sourcing its products from ancient or endangered forests, or other controversial sources

A great option for active bodies

Tencel is a great alternative to synthetic activewear. It’s breathable, absorbs moisture and is soft on the skin. While it is pricier than your average workout tank top, something we always try to prioritise at Good On You is quality over quantity. If exercising is part of your daily routine, it’s worth investing in quality and durable garments that are good for your skin, such as those made from Tencel. If you look good, feel good and do good for the environment, nothing can stop you from achieving your personal best!

Here are some ‘Good’ rated brands that use Tencel:

Patagonia

Rated: Good

Patagonia is a brand which truly lives and breathes the great outdoors. It makes clothing for trail running, climbing, mountain biking, surfing, skiing and snowboarding. Patagonia has strong labour rights and uses recycled, rather than virgin polyester. It’s also stated a commitment to reducing their energy use and emissions.

Reformation

Rated: Good

LA-based Reformation creates killer clothes that don’t kill the environment. The brand also ensures that a large proportion of its suppliers pay a living wage. Go Reformation!

G-Star Raw

Rated: Good

G-Star Raw has been setting some good worker empowerment initiatives in its supply chain in the past few years. It’s a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and it has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles!

Editor's note: Editor’s note: this article was updated in August 2018. Feature image via Unsplash. All other images via Lenzing and brands mentioned.

Ethical brand ratings. There’s an app for that.

Wear the change you want to see. Download our app to discover ethical brands and see how your favourites measure up.