Proper Materials: Tencel

Table of Content

  • Where to Place Tencel in the Fiber Realm
  • Who is Producing Tercel, and How?
  • How Proper is Tercel?
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The sustainable textile revolution is in full swing, with eco-friendly materials sprouting up across the planet. When you're shopping denim – and you want to do so sustainably, it is good to know how to recognize these green(er) materials and how they're produced. To ensure that you're equipped with this know-how, we created the Proper Materials series. So, what's the story behind Tencel?

Where to Place Tencel in the Fiber Realm

Tencel is a brand name for lyocell, which is another fancy word for a sustainably produced viscose. It resembles silk in terms of look-and-feel. Lyocell belongs to the rayon family (fake silks), which consists of substances derived from cellulose (the 'skeleton' of plant cells). Viscose is made specifically from wood pulp. Tencel comes from trees like the eucalyptus, aspen, birch, cacia, southern pine and maple. Since this natural base goes through a chemical process, all types including Tencel are called semi-synthetics.

Who is producing Tencel, and how?

Tencel is a product group from the Austrian fiber solution company Lenzing. They've been in business for over 80 years and meanwhile they have put a range of popular, increasingly sustainable fibers on the market. It’s very likely that these fibers are in your clothes as well. But how do these genius Austrians make the stuff?

It all starts with those trees. Lenzing says they only source wood from sustainably managed forest and plantations, mostly from the Brazilian eucalyptus, Austrian beech and birch and the spruce from Czech Republic. The stems are turned into pulp by the company itself and external suppliers. These snips are then dissolved into a chemical, non-hazardous liquid substance or solvent that is extruded through tiny holes. The resulting threads are treated again with chemicals and dried until they look like spinnable fibers – ready to blend with others into your favorite sweater.

How Proper is Tencel?

Tencel is without a doubt the better type of rayon. Besides the fact that it has better cooling properties and feels softer on the skin, it is produced with much more ecological awareness. Water use and energy consumption are significantly lower and whereas the production of rayon comes with dangerous chemicals such as caustic soda and carbon disulfinde, lyocell is much less toxic. The basis of the solution is the organic compound called N-methylmorpholin-N-oxide (NMMO). That doesn't mean you should try make your own lyocell at home – it's still a risk bearing compound that must be handled with care.

Even more revolutionary about the production of Tencel is the almost complete recovery of the solvent and breakdown of the remaining emissions in biological water treatment plants. It makes Tencel a closed-loop innovation which saves the planet from further environmental pollution (from wastewater) and the need to extract new raw materials.

Lenzing also works with 'biorefinery', which means to optimize the efficient use of the wood. Because the output consists of more than just wood pulp. You also get some bioenergy and biobased chemicals, all of which can be used again. It’s a vision that ticks all the boxes of the circular economy.

Finally, Tencel carries a number of certificates such as  the EU Ecolabel, one of the few independent certifications on the market, the well-known FSC standard and PEFC for wood from Europe. The purchased wood from Lenzing can be traced back to the forest of origin. Unfortunately, you cannot see this path for yourself, but since 2010 it has been checked by independent companies. In sustainability jargon, you call this 'strong due diligence'. That doesn't mean there's zero shady business going on. Over the years, multiple discoveries of non-compliance with forestry standards have been made.

Transparency is a profession in its own right, but that is for companies and governments to solve. Your responsibility as a durable denim lover lies in researching your purchases as well as possible, and Tencel is a perfectly fine choice.

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