What is Tencel? Material Guide, Ethics and Sustainability
27 Jul

Material Guide: How Ethical is Tencel?

The fabric commonly labelled as “Tencel” is increasingly a 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 owned by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. They use it for a type of lyocell fabric, and – confusingly – also for their modal material. The material brands market as “Tencel” is usually Tencel lyocell.

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 use the chemical N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide. However lyocell’s 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.

Once environmental 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:

Tasi Travels

Rated: Good

For travelwear designed for adventures, look no further than Australian brand Tasi Travels. Boasting a stunning collection of handmade garments in eco-friendly 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 S/M and M/L.

See the rating.

Shop Tasi Travels.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. 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
woman wearing tentree clothes

Offers

men and women by the ocean wearing black and white sustainable sweatshirts and hoodies by tentree brand

tentree – Hoodies and Sweatshirts

The second layer you'll never want to take off. Equal parts comfortable and sustainable. Free shipping on hoodies and sweatshirts. (USA and Canada only) (Ends: 31 JAN)

Shop now
woman wearing grey sustainable hemp face mask by ethical brand tentree

tentree – Masks

Protect the planet, your community, yourself. These washable face masks are made from recycled and re-purposed materials. Free shipping on 3-pack face masks. (USA and Canada only) (Ends: 31 JAN)

Shop now
woman reclining in stylish sustainable loungewear by tentree

tentree – Loungewear

Loungewear you'll actually want to wear out of the house. Comfy, minimal, and plays well with both sneakers and slippers! Free shipping on loungewear for men and women. (USA and Canada only)   (Ends: 31 JAN)

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tentree is a lifestyle apparel company that plants ten trees for every item purchased! The Canadian 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, and has a size range of XS-XL.

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, and stocks sizes XS-XXL.

See the rating.

Shop Patagonia @ Luisa via Roma.

Shop Patagonia.

Triarchy

Rated: Good

Triarchy creates eco-friendly jeans, skirts, jumpsuits, 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.

TAMGA Designs

Rated: Great

Jasmine Dress – Ships Internationally from USA

Offers

woman of colour wearing floral sustainable dress by TAMGA Designs

TAMGA Designs – Dresses

Eco-friendly bohemian dresses that turn heads, as comfortable as they are kind to the Earth. 15% off dresses with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 7 FEB)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now
woman of colour wearing floral sustainable kimono by TAMGA Designs

TAMGA Designs – Kimonos

Easy breezy robes for effortless layering at home, on the beach, or for a night out. 15% off kimonos with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 7 FEB)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now
woman of colour wearing floral sustainable top and skirt by TAMGA Designs

TAMGA Designs – Bottoms

Get prepared to step into warmer days in ultra soft and sustainable bottoms. 15% off bottoms with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 7 FEB)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now
woman of colour wearing floral sustainable top by TAMGA Designs

TAMGA Designs – Tops

Seek the sun or relax indoors in flowy and feminine tops, crafted with our planet in mind. 15% off tops with code GOODONYOU (Trees Please Tee excluded). (Ends: 7 FEB)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now

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.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

Offers

Whimsy + Row – Outerwear

Easy, flirty and elegant jackets and coats ethically made for every modern and creative woman. Winter Sample Sale! Up to 75% off outerwear. (Ends: 31 JAN)

Shop now

Whimsy + Row – Bottoms

Hello, effortless chic: made out of the best eco-friendly fabrics, these pants and skirts will become your go-to! Winter Sample Sale! Up to 75% off bottoms. (Ends: 31 JAN)

Shop now

Whimsy + Row – Tops

Like finding a vintage gem, Whimsy + Row tops use deadstock fabric to create unique looks you will treasure. Winter Sample Sale! Tops starting at $16. (Ends: 31 JAN)

Shop now

This LA-based brand makes ethical fashion that looks great—a rare find indeed.  By limiting each garment to short runs, Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, reduces packaging waste, and takes care of precious water resources. Find most products in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

OhSevenDays

Rated: Good

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 ethical. Essentially, they make slow fashion from fast fashion's leftovers! OhSevenDays' garments are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop OhSevenDays.

ARIELLE

Rated: Good

ARIELLE is a US-based sustainable apparel label committed to organic, recycled and zero-waste fabrics, local manufacturing, fair-trade supply chain and plastic-free packaging and production. It makes covetable clothes with no compromise to people or planet and carries a size range of XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop ARIELLE.

Mother of Pearl

Rated: Good
girls wearing mother of pearl

Mother of Pearl is a sustainable and ethical luxury womenswear and accessories designer brand that celebrates individuality and authenticity. The brand uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton and ensure the payment of a living wage across some of its supply chain. Find most products in UK sizes 6 to 16.

See the rating.

Shop Mother of Pearl @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Mother of Pearl.

Editor's note

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 our Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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