Eucalyptus tree, used for making tencel
Tencel : a brief history
Tencel is the registered brand name of a revolutionary sustainable fibre of botanical origin, produced by the Lenzing Group. Based in Austria, the Lenzing company was founded in 1938 and has built an impressive worldwide reputation among aficionados of ethical fashion by focusing on the manufacture and development of highly sustainable fabrics.
"The first stage in the manufacturing process is the sourcing of
suitable wood pulp. The major factor which sets this material apart
from other forms of rayon is the choice of raw materials"
The fibre, also known by the generic name lyocell, is a variety of rayon. It is made entirely from regenerated cellulose, and as such it is exceptionally environmentally friendly. The source material used in the manufacturing process is dissolved wood pulp, which makes it one of the most sustainable options available to the ethically minded clothing manufacturer.
Hailed by many as a modern wonder material, lyocell was first synthesised in 1972 at Enka, North Carolina, under the working title of ‘Newcell’. Having captured the imaginations of forward-thinking innovators within the clothing industry, the fabric was further refined at the Courtaulds factory in Coventry, England during the 1980s, and it was there that the name ‘Tencel’ was first used.
How is it made?
The first stage in the manufacturing process is the sourcing of suitable wood pulp. The major factor which sets this material apart from other forms of rayon is the choice of raw materials, which are specifically chosen for their eco-friendliness. All the wood pulp used in its manufacture is harvested from eucalyptus trees which have been specifically farmed for the purpose, on land which would otherwise go to waste as it is unsuitable for agricultural development.
How sustainable is the manufacturing process?
Unlike many other man-made materials, the farming process scores highly in terms of environmental sustainability. No existing forests are depleted, no pesticides are used, and absolutely no genetic manipulation is involved in the process of farming the raw materials.
This offers a significant advantage over many other synthetic fibres, which generally require extensive chemical processing. The synthesis of most other forms of rayon involves the use of chemical catalysts such as cobalt and manganese, both of which can be highly toxic to the environment, resulting in high levels of air and water pollution which can have a potentially catastrophic effect upon the ecosystem.
A life cycle assessment conducted in 2008 by the University of Leipzig reported that the production of lyocell is far more eco-friendly than the harvesting of cotton. The study found that the manufacturing process consumes ten to twenty times less water than would be used in the production of an equivalent amount of cotton.
What can it be used for?
The applications are wide and varied. Supremely flexible and soft to the touch, these fibres are ideally suited to the needs of fashion business looking to improve their sustainability. Tencel is naturally breathable and absorb 50% more moisture than cotton. From an aesthetic perspective, the fabric drapes exceptionally well, which opens up tremendous possibilities for innovative clothing manufacturers in search of the next breakthrough in ethical fashion.
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