What is Tencel? Material Guide, Ethics and Sustainability
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:

Tentree

Rated: Good

tentree is a lifestyle apparel company that plants ten trees for every item purchased! The brand uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton. It uses renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

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 has also committed to reducing its energy use and emissions.

See the rating.

Shop Patagonia.

Triarchy

Rated: Good

Triarchy creates eco-friendly jeans, skirts and jackets using a Tencel cotton blend. The brand’s production system uses 85% recycled water by consistently reusing the ‘thick indigo laden sludge’ that unmonitored factories dump into water systems.

See the rating.

Shop Triarchy.

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!

See the rating.

Shop G-Star Raw @ Farfetch.

TAMGA Designs

Rated: Great

Jasmine Dress – Ships Internationally from USA

Tamga Designs is a sustainable social enterprise that helps to create opportunities for disadvantaged people and serves up gorgeous, flowy designs that will glide you into warmer weather with poise and grace. Tamga offers a range of tops, skirts, dresses and accessories made from 100% Micro TENCEL®.

See the rating.

Shop TAMGA Designs.

Editor's note

This article was updated in August 2018. Feature image via Unsplash. All other images via Lenzing and brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world's most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use the Directory to search more than 2,000 brands. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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