Material Guide: How Ethical is Tencel?

Have you ever been browsing for conscious clothing and stumbled across some pretty strange terminology? This can be especially frustrating if you’re trying to figure out what material something is made from, and it’s something you’ve never heard of before!

One such potential stumbling block is Tencel – so we’ve put together a cheatsheet to help demystify this fabric and put the power back in your hands.

What do we mean by Tencel?

Tencel is actually a brand name for a type of material made from lyocell, which was originally developed in 1972 by a team in the United States. It might help to think of it like this – Tencel is like Panadol or Tylenol and lyocell is like paracetamol. Today one of the best known producers of lyocell is the Austrian company Lenzing AG, who market their version of lyocell under the name TENCEL®.

So what is it and how is it made?

Lyocell is a form of rayon. It consists of a cellulose fibre, which is made by dissolving the wood pulp of certain types of trees and using a special drying process called spinning. Before they are 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 are then chemically treated and the lengths of fibre are spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Two of the most popular types of lyocell fabrics are those made from eucalyptus trees and those made from bamboo.

Lyocell fabrics aren’t just used for garments though. They’re also used in the beauty industry as the soft, absorbent qualities make them ideal for face masks and wipes.

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, lyocell fabrics are perfect for a sweaty gym or bikram yoga session, making them ideal for activewear.


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How does Tencel impact the environment?

As is the case with most textiles, lyocell production has both positive and negative impacts on the environment. Like cotton and bamboo, lyocell is made from plant materials. However manufacturing lyocell requires less energy and water than cotton. The trees are usually grown without pesticides on land which is often deemed unfit for agricultural use. One type of lyocell fabric for example, is made from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

lenzing-tencel

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. 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.

The main concern with lyocell 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.

A great option for active bodies

Lyocell 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!

Brands using lyocell fabrics include:

Patagonia good on you great rating

Patagonia Tencel Singlet

Women’s Lightweight Layering Tank
Price: $29 USD | Ships internationally

This simple lightweight tank is designed to stay wrinkle and odour free. It’s versatile and durable making it the perfect design for your favourite gym class or a hike in the sunshine.

Reformation GoY-Ratings_4

Reformation Sardinia Dress

Sardinia Dress
Price: $118 USD | Ships internationally

Tencel works with more than just activewear. Reformation’s Sardinia Dress showcases how lyocell fabrics can be used to create both comfort and style.

Project SoCo GoY-Ratings_5

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SoCo Black Tank 
Price: $55 AUD | Ships internationally

A black tank top is as much a wardrobe essential as the white tee! Project SoCo are an Australian brand who aim to educate people by helping them learn to pay attention to their purchases. They tick all our boxes, giving them a ‘Great’ rating on the Good On You app.

Komodo GoY-Ratings_4

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OXI Tencel Denim Tunic
Price: €100 Euro | Ships internationally

Komodo are committed to using sustainable fibres, and their production processes are Carbon Neutral certified. We love this smart-casual tunic, perfect for those in between times of year!

Have you bought anything made from Tencel before? Tell us what you think!


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Kendall Benton-Collins

Kendall has over a decade’s worth of experience working in the field of environmental conservation and communication. She’s the creator of Kindness by Design and a member of the Australia/New Zealand Working Group for Fashion Revolution, an international movement advocating for a fashion industry which values people, the environment, creativity and profits in equal measure.


Feature Image via Pexels

Product images via brands

One reply on “Material Guide: How Ethical is Tencel?

  • Rayna

    I bought a tencel tunic dress from South African brand Jane Sews. I love the weight and quality – it has some thickness to it, and it’s swingy – but it wrinkles a lot, which makes it problematic for travel or wearing on comfy, slouch-about days, despite the versatility of the style. I will still likely buy from them again, but I do wonder if all their tencel products have the same weave or quality.

    Reply

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