Most women own clothing made from viscose; a silky soft fibre with gorgeous drape often used for printed dresses, t-shirts, jumpsuits and more.
Time and again touted as being a natural fibre, one could be forgiven for thinking that viscose is harmless for the environment. Sadly, when we are talking about generic viscose, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The good news is that there are better alternatives out there and that, by actively choosing them, you can make a positive difference to the planet.
Read on to find out more about viscose and its eco-friendlier cousins.
WHAT IS VISCOSE?
Viscose is a man-made cellulose fibre, also called a regenerated fibre, derived from wood chips. The wood chips are turned into wood pulp, which in turn is broken down and regenerated into the viscose fibre using a lot of chemicals. It’s a linear process involving highly toxic carbon disulphide, extensive water consumption and large amounts of waste water discharged into rivers and streams.
Add to this that, globally only 54% of the wood used in viscose production has gone through a CanopyStyle Audit, means that almost half originates from unknown sources and hence generic viscose is likely to contribute to deforestation in endangered places like Indonesia.
According to the Textile Exchange, the market share of generic viscose is currently around 79% of all man-made cellulose fibres. In 2018 that equated to roughly 5.3 million tonnes of generic viscose. Imagine all the good we could do, if we could replace all of that with eco-friendlier options!
All that said, viscose in all it’s shapes and forms has one good thing going for it; it is biodegradable. Oh, but it’s also cheap, which is why most fast-fashion chains use it for their printed styles.
MEET ECOVERO; THE MORE SUSTAINABLE COUSIN
Ecovero is a more sustainable version of viscose. It is a branded version of viscose developed by the Austrian company Lenzing, using sustainably forested trees only (FSC and PEFC certified) and offering complete supply chain transparency.
Apart from guaranteeing that the raw material comes from responsible sources, Ecovero is also using less energy and 50% less water in the production process than generic viscose.
It’s an improvement, eh? But there is something better, in my opinion.
WHY LYOCELL IS EVEN BETTER
The name lyocell covers all man-made cellulose fibres made in a closed loop system. The process was invented in the 1980s, but has only gained real traction in this last decade. In 2018 it accounted for 4% of all man-made cellulose fibres, and it’s currently the fastest growing fibre, expected to be around 15% by 2022 according to Textile Exchange.
As lyocell mostly refers to the specific closed loop process under which the fibres are created, the wood used for the production is not necessarily from sustainably managed forests.
However, when you look at it from a water consumption and water pollution point of view, it is far better for the planet than viscose.
Instead of using highly toxic chemicals, the lyocell process is using an organic compound called N-methylmorpholine N-oxide, and up to 99% of the solvents are recovered and reused. The same goes with the water and whichever little water is led back into nature is almost, if not entirely, clean.
It gets even better though…
WHY CHOOSING TENCEL™ CAN MAKE A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
Tencel™ is a branded version of lyocell developed by Lenzing. On top of everything that’s good about lyocell, Tencel™ only uses wood sourced from sustainably managed forests (FSC and PEFC certified) and their pulp mills are powered by renewable energy.
In fact, the Tencel™ process won Lenzing the European Award for the Environment from the European Commission in the category “The Technology Award for Sustainable Development”.
It’s the Rolls Royce of man-made cellulose fibres, hence it’s also slightly more expensive than generic viscose; the main reason why most fast-fashion brands shy away from it.
With an equally beautiful drape, a super soft hand feel, better strength and good breathability, it is as great a fibre as viscose to use for printed dresses etc, yet much better when it comes to protecting the planet and future generations.
The below benchmark was created by the NGO Made-by.org which rated all fibres used in fashion on a scale from A to E, with A being the most environmentally friendly. As you will see, generic viscose is rated E, the least environmentally friendly category, whereas Tencel™ is rated B. (sadly made-by.org doesn’t exist anymore, but their legacy lives on in this framework.)
At VILDNIS, we strive to use branded Tencel™ only and all of our woven fabrics are bought from fabric mills with a Lenzing license.
There are, however, times when we have to go for the next best thing, unbranded lyocell, to balance out our order sizes and to prevent fabric waste. As an example, our bestselling Waimea T-shirt is made from an organic linen/lyocell yarn with smaller minimums.
Given the growth expectation in the lyocell category, there are a lot of companies currently working on new innovations in this area and I am very excited to see what the future will bring.
One of the most exciting companies on my radar at the moment is Renewcell, who has created a process whereby they can recycle and reuse man-made cellulose fibres. The resulting fibre is called Circulose. We have already been in contact with them and are currently waiting patiently until they make their circular model and fibre available to the mass market. As it stands, they are only doing project-based work with big brands.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope I have managed to convince you that it is well worth always checking out the fibre composition when shopping new clothes.
Choosing Tencel™ over viscose really does make a world of difference to the planet.
PS: If you want to see what a product made from Tencel™ looks like, have a look here.