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A black orange blossom print TENCEL Lyocell skirt by Mother of Pearl.
07 Sep
A black orange blossom print TENCEL Lyocell skirt by Mother of Pearl.

Material Guide: What Is TENCEL Lyocell? And Is It Sustainable?

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TENCEL is a popular fabric of choice for more conscious clothing brands. It’s light and versatile, and used in everything from casual wear to underwear to activewear. But what impact does it have on people, the planet, and animals? Is TENCEL ethical and sustainable? We’ve put together a cheatsheet to help demystify this fabric and put the power back in your hands.

What is TENCEL?

In a world facing environmental catastrophe, consumers are catching onto the fact that their choices must extend beyond style and comfort. More sustainable fashion has emerged as a powerful way to reduce our ecological footprint and promote more ethical practices within the industry. While navigating the water of responsible fashion, you might have noticed one material continuing to crop up: TENCEL Lyocell. This versatile fabric has captured the attention of more environmentally-conscious brands and consumers alike. Below, we delve into the intricacies of TENCEL Lyocell, exploring its sustainability claims, impact on our planet, and the factors that make it an attractive option for those seeking more eco-friendly wardrobe choices.

Note that the TENCEL brand name is owned by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. The company provides two types of fibres under the TENCEL brand—TENCEL Lyocell and TENCEL Modal. In this article we’ll be putting the spotlight on TENCEL Lyocell.

How is TENCEL made?

TENCEL Lyocell is a man-made cellulosic fibre, similar to viscose and modal. To make TENCEL Lyocell, wood pulp is dissolved in a solvent, and this mixture is pushed through a spinneret (a device which looks similar to a shower head) to form fibre strands in a solvent spinning process. The resulting fibres can then be spun into yarns, and later woven or knitted to make cloth. Sounds simple enough—but what kind of environmental footprint does this process have?

So how does TENCEL impact the environment?

TENCEL Lyocell is better for the environment than other similar fabrics, but not as low-impact as top-tier fabrics like organic linen or recycled cotton.

In production, TENCEL requires less energy and water than conventional cotton. As a plant-derived fibre, TENCEL is also biodegradable, but check that it isn’t mixed with other synthetic fibres like nylon when it comes time to dispose of the garment. Although like most materials, it is often coloured with harmful conventional dyes, TENCEL requires a lot less dye than cotton. It is also pure white when produced, so no bleaching is necessary and undyed is always an option.

Another version of TENCEL incorporates REFIBRA technology, which uses a mix of wood pulp and cotton pulp as a raw material. The cotton pulp is derived from recycled cotton scraps, further reducing environmental impact.

TENCEL v traditional viscose/rayon

There are two main ways TENCEL Lyocell differs from most other fabrics made from wood fibre.

First, at the chemical treatment stage. The traditional viscose process is chemically-intensive, using harmful sodium hydroxide. TENCEL replaces it with the NMMO process. The solution of N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide is more easily recoverable, and a closed-loop solvent system means almost no solvent is dumped into the ecosystem. Instead, it is recycled time and time again to produce new fibres and minimise harmful waste. Lenzing AG says the solvent recovery rate for their version is an impressive 99%, and it also recycles the process water.

Second, TENCEL is made from responsibly-sourced wood, while around 30% of rayon and viscose used in fashion is made from pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests. Lenzing AG states it sources from more sustainably-managed PEFC or  FSC tree plantations. This is good news, considering concerns about the increasing impact of viscose production on deforestation.

Other sources of lyocell

Lyocell fabric is also manufactured by a company called Birla, under the name Birla Excel. In 2017, the Rainforest Alliance assessed Birla Excel as at low risk of sourcing products from ancient or endangered forests or other controversial sources. Birla also claims to recover over 90% of chemicals used in Excel production. This is an industry-leading result, so clothing made from Birla-sourced lyocell is another good option.

As versatile as it gets

TENCEL fabric is extremely versatile. Depending on the length of the fibre chosen in production, varying thickness and texture can result. From a cottony feel to a silky one, the fabric adapts to a wide range of clothing types, from activewear to flowy dresses. casual wear and intimate apparel.

According to Lenzing, TENCEL has incredible absorption characteristics: 50% more than cotton. Because it’s more breathable and less susceptible to odorous bacteria growth like environmentally-damaging synthetics, this fabric is ideal for activewear. So if exercising is part of your daily routine, consider investing in high quality, durable garments that are good for your skin, such as those made from TENCEL. Perfect for a sweaty gym or hot yoga session.

Worth the investment

While it’s true that TENCEL garments may come with a slightly higher price tag than conventional fabrics, it’s essential to view this investment through a long-term lens. The added cost reflects a commitment to quality, durability, and sustainability. TENCEL Lyocell’s inherent resilience ensures that your clothing will withstand the test of time, reducing the need for frequent replacements. Moreover, the lower environmental impact of TENCEL’s production and its biodegradability contribute to a more responsible fashion ecosystem. By choosing TENCEL, you’re not just purchasing a piece of clothing; you’re making a contribution to a greener future and redefining the value of your fashion choices.

Caring for your TENCEL garments

Caring for your TENCEL garments properly is essential to help them last as long as possible. Fortunately, keeping TENCEL in top notch condition is relatively simple. Follow these guidelines to ensure your clothing stays in great shape:

  • Washing: machine wash your TENCEL garments on a gentle cycle using cold water. Use a mild, more eco-friendly detergent to minimise environmental impact. Avoid harsh detergents and bleaches, as they can damage the fabric’s integrity.
  • Drying: opt for air-drying whenever possible. If using a dryer, select a low heat setting to prevent excessive shrinkage or damage to the fibres.
  • Ironing: use a low-heat iron setting for TENCEL clothing. If your iron has a steam setting, that can help remove wrinkles effectively.
  • Storage: hang TENCEL garments to allow them to breathe and prevent creasing. Avoid direct sunlight, which can cause colours to fade over time.

Here are some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ rated brands that use TENCEL

TALI & TASI

Rated: Good
Woman wearing green more sustainable TENCEL wrap dress by responsible brand Tasi Travels.

Wilder Wrap Dress Moss – Ships internationally from Australia

For travelwear designed for adventures, look no further than Australian brand TALI & TASI (formerly Tasi Travels). Boasting a stunning collection of handmade garments in lower-impact materials that are made-to-order, you can feel good out in the world knowing you are leaving a light footprint behind.

Garments come in sizes XS/S, S/M, and M/L.

See the rating.

Shop TALI & TASI.

MATE the Label

Rated: Good
plus size model woman wearing light green tencel sleepwear set by MATE the Label

Tencel Sleep Pants – Ships internationally from the US

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and lower-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is responsible. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint.

Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.

tentree

Rated: Good
A grey TENCEL and organic cotton long sleeve top by tentree.

TreeWaffle Henley Longsleeve – Ships internationally from Canada

Canadian brand tentree believes big change starts small. Small as in bringing your reusable bag to the grocery store, making fewer, more thoughtful purchases, and choosing to purchase more sustainably when you do. The brand plants ten trees for every item purchased to help regenerate ecosystems and provide planting jobs in communities around the world, and has already planted over 65 million trees.

All tentree’s products are created with an Earth-First approach, meaning they're made in fair, safe working conditions, and constructed using lower-impact and recycled materials.

tentree’s super comfy fabrics and easy wardrobe staples are typically available from XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

Tripulse

Rated: Great
Close up shot of black TENCEL shorts made by Tripulse.

TENCEL™ Made to Move Shorts – Ships internationally from Sweden

Tripulse is a Swedish activewear brand on a mission to create high performing activewear that protects our planet and its people. The brand believes that fitness, both physical and mental, is the foundation for a good and healthy life and gives people the courage to live the life they dreamed of, become their best selves, make bold moves, and change the world for the better.

Find most items in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Tripulse.

Proclaim

Rated: Good
Someone wearing a TENCEL underwear set by Proclaim that matches their medium skin shade.

TENCEL Mid-Rise Brief – Ships internationally from the US

Offers

Four female presenting persons posing together in Proclaim shape-wear

Proclaim – Shapewear (US)

Proclaim is introducing the world's first plant-based shapewear. Designed to honor the earth and women’s health, without sacrificing on sculpting and smoothing. Exclusive 20% off Shapewear with code PROCLAIMSHAPE20 (Available in the US only) (Ends: 17 JUN)

Checkout code: PROCLAIMSHAPE20
Shop now

Los Angeles-based Proclaim makes beautiful bras, underwear, and basics from more responsible materials like recycled plastic bottles and TENCEL. Its designs come in three shades of "nude", building inclusivity into the brand. It also ensures the people in its California factory earn a living wage, and visits suppliers regularly.

Find the range in sizes S-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Proclaim.

The Very Good Bra

Rated: Good

V for Victory Bra – Ships internationally from Australia

Offers

Two Female presenting persons in underwear by the brand The Very Good Bra

The Very Good Bra – Site-wide (EU)

Discover The Very Good Bra's range of plastic-free bras, briefs and sleepwear that can be composted at the end of life. Exclusive 15% off with code TVGB15 (Available in Europe only) (Ends: 19 JUN)

Checkout code: TVGB15
Shop now

The Very Good Bra is an Australian womenswear label that houses lingerie and other basics for the modern woman.

Find most bras in cup sizes A-E, and clothes in S-L.

See the rating.

Shop The Very Good Bra.

TAMGA Designs

Rated: Good
pink tencel shirt with trees please logo by TAMGA Designs

Trees Please Crew Neck – Ships internationally from Canada

TAMGA Designs is a more 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®. Find the range in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop TAMGA Designs.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good
A white extended sizing wrap cupro and TENCEL top by Whimsy + Row.

Lauren Top in Cream Extended – Ships internationally from the US

Offers

Female presenting person wearing black top and jeans shorts from Whimsy + Row brand

Whimsy + Row – Sales

Whimsy + Row carries a mixture of curated vintage and contemporary lines providing ease and elegance for the modern woman. Final Sale: Up to 70% off selected styles (Ends: 20 JUN)

Shop now

Whimsy + Row is a US-based lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and responsible practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern woman. Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources.

Find most products in XS-XL, with an extended sizing range up to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

OhSevenDays

Rated: Good
Lilac TENCEL trousers made responsibly by OhSevenDays.

High Kick Trousers – Ships internationally from Turkey

OhSevenDays was started by Australian-Canadian Megan Mummery to promote slow fashion and the "power of circularity". Based in Istanbul, the brand reclaims end-of-roll fabrics from the city’s garment factories and creates sharp, everyday womenswear that’s as wearable as it is responsible. Essentially, it makes slow fashion from fast fashion's leftovers.

OhSevenDays' garments are available in sizes XS-XL, or in custom sizing.

See the rating.

Shop OhSevenDays.

Mother of Pearl

Rated: Good
A black orange blossom print TENCEL Lyocell skirt by Mother of Pearl.

Amelie Noir Blossom Skirt – Ships internationally from the UK

Mother of Pearl is a more sustainable and ethical luxury womenswear and accessories designer brand from the UK that celebrates individuality and authenticity. The brand uses a high proportion of more responsible materials including organic cotton and ensures the payment of a living wage across some of its supply chain.

Find most products in UK sizes 6-16.

See the rating.

Shop Mother of Pearl.

Shop Mother of Pearl @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Mother of Pearl Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

FRANC

Rated: Good
A TENCEL and organic cotton blend active legging by FRANC.

The Basic High-Rise Legging – Ships internationally from Canada

FRANC is a Canadian brand that makes basics so you can enjoy a complete wardrobe built on timeless essentials. The brand ranks "Good" on all fronts: it uses lower-impact materials, traces and visits its supply chain, and uses no animal products.

Find most products in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop FRANC.

Learn more about more responsible materials

Editor's note

Feature image via Mother of Pearl, all other images via Unsplash, and brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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