Cupro Fabric: Is The Material Really As Sustainable As We Are Led To Believe?

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Sustainable fashion is gradually getting a foothold as people distance themselves from plastic-based acrylic materials and animal byproducts. One such eco-friendly fiber that has gained much attention is cupro fabric, made from regenerated cellulose fiber derived from cotton. This magical fiber is believed to feel like silk and breathe like cotton. But is the luxury vegan alternative as eco-friendly as it is made out to be?

Changes on our planet have forced us to focus more on the waste we generate and find ways to reduce it. So, going by that logic, cupro fabric should be the name being touted by the big wigs of the fashion world. With multiple monikers, cupro fabric goes by the name of Bemberg, its brand name, ammonia silk, and cuprammonium rayon.

It is a close cousin to viscose, rayon, Lyocell, and Tencel; those fabrics lost in between the not-exactly-natural and the but-not-synthetic world. And it mimics the extravagance of silk and pure cotton but comes at a lesser cost. And what makes it illegal in the US?

Origin And Make Of Cupra Fabric

Cupra fabric is made with a solution of ammonia and copper, the reason it has been given the scientific name, Cuprammonium rayon. Rayon became popular as a cheaper substitute for silk. It is made by pulping plant cellulose mechanically and then liquefying it with chemicals that are more often than not toxic. The pulp is then turned into fibers, spun into yarns, and finally woven or knit into fabrics.

Cupra fabric follows the same process. And going by that logic, cupro fabric could be termed semi-synthetic. The cellulose it contains comes from cotton linter, a waste by-product. It is washed, dissolved in cuprammonium hydroxide, filtered with sand and asbestos. The end product is finally spun into fibers but not before it goes through a mixture of alcohol, a cresol solution, and diluted acid. The final product is the regenerated filaments of cellulose.

Qualities That Go For Cupro Fabric

One property that goes for cupro fabric is the absence of animal byproducts. That gives it the name, vegan silk. It doesn’t cause an allergic reaction, is extremely durable and resistant to stretch. It is anti-static, and thus is less likely to cling when rubbed, and dries quickly due to its temperature-regulating property.

And finally, it has the softness of natural fabrics combined with the practicality of synthetic ones. And it is touted as environmentally safe.

The raw material that goes into cupro fabric is a by-product of cotton that would otherwise go to waste. That makes it totally biodegradable and doesn’t stay around in landfills for eternity or end up as microplastics in the oceans, as the fabric doesn’t shed any.

cupro fabric

Cupro fabric also uses less water if it is produced in a closed-loop. Both the chemical used in it and the water can be reused and recycled multiple times. This fabric also doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned like silk.

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And finally, it does not involve cruelty to animals. Silk, on the other hand, is extracted by boiling the living worms inside their cocoons and along with leather, is the worst fabric environmentally.

But There Are Cons

Though cupro fabric is marketed for its sustainable claims as it is majorly a derivative of cotton. But cotton causes pollution due to the high use of agrochemicals and uses a substantial amount of water. The environmental impact of producing cotton has been extreme on agricultural lands and their surrounding environment.

The process of making cupro fabrics also involves hazardous chemicals, the reason it is banned in the US. While the final product doesn’t contain traces of the chemicals used (sodium hydroxide, ammonia, and sulfuric acid), its use is extremely hazardous for workers involved in the process of making cupro fabric.

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Moreover, facilities for manufacturing the fiber can contaminate surrounding areas with copper waste if the closed-loop system is not followed. This system does not exchange any matter with the outside world.

Cupro Fabric And Other Materials

As cupro fabric is combined with several chemicals before the fiber is finally extracted and woven, it is semi-synthetic though it is manufactured from a cotton byproduct. Thus it inhabits a region somewhere between cotton and synthetic fibers like polyester.

Cotton and cupro fabric come from identical plants but are quite different fibers. One is the involvement of toxic chemicals. And the second is the final product. The feel of the cupro fabric is different as it is silky and soft. This makes it a vegan substitute for silk.

But cotton is more versatile and consumes less energy. Cupro fabric consumed more energy than cotton (around 70%).

Polyester is a completely synthetic material and is a kind of plastic that is made from fossil fuels, though alternatives exist that use recycled plastic, crops, and even waste.  It takes less time to manufacture but lacks the touch and feel of cupro fabric. Polyester also requires toxic and harsh chemicals to dye, though it requires less amount of water than cupro fiber.

cupro fabric

Environmental factors have led to the search for alternatives to cupro fiber. Several eco-friendlier alternatives are available that include Modal. It is close to silk and is a form of rayon. As cupro fiber is a regenerated cellulose fiber that is majorly made from cotton linters, it has a lower environmental impact in the process of dying. It also consumes less energy than cotton.

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Two products that are still undergoing research and development are Microsilk and Orange fiber. The former is made by Bolt Threads. The process of manufacturing Microsilk involves fermenting, yeast, sugar, and water. The quality of the material is close to spider silk.

Orange fiber is made from the by-products of citrus juice that are repurposed to produce silk-like cellulose fabric.

Cupro fiber despite being technically recycled and vegan is not completely sustainable and ethical. Several factors, including the manufacturing process and the working conditions of its workers, are a matter of concern. It is necessary to choose materials and brands that follow transparent processes and makes an ethical choice for people, animals, and the environment.

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