Tencel is actually the name of the brand that is the trademark for clothes made from lyocell and modal fibers. It is similar to how Kleenex has become the name for tissues and Ziplock is the name for plastic bags attached with zips. The name Tencel and lyocell and modal have the same relation.
Now, what are these lyocell and modal fibers? The specialty of these fibers are being extremely soft, and at the same time, extremely environmentally friendly. Or such is claimed. The claims are so promising that shops, textile producers, and fashion gurus are all talking about this material. But how many of these claims are true? And what exactly is this fiber?
To verify the claims, there have been studies conducted comparing this fabric and any other kind of product made of cotton, or some sort of cotton derivative. The comparison was done blindly, and the results were promising: almost all the participants rated Tencel as much softer than its cotton counterpart.
But that is not all that this fabric is offering. One of the other qualities that make it extremely lucrative to the fashion industry is that Tencel lyocell fabric drapes without any difficulty. Furthermore, it is naturally resistant to wrinkles (which means less ironing). And, it also retains dye very well, which means this fabric can come in various vibrant hues, possibly even more than natural cotton.
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But its softness is its primary feature. As such, the typical products made from Tencel modal are intimate apparel and loungewear. This fabric is one of the best options for those who want garments to be durable, last for a long time, and remain soft for a long time. And who does not want that?
The origin of this fiber dates back to 1972. In a United States fiber facility, lyocell was developed for the first time ever. It involved an advanced process in which solvents were spun together with wood pulp. This spinning process transformed the wood pulp into a material fit for textile. This is lyocell.
By 1992, more and more people around the world were getting worried about pollution and the impact it has. In this year, the market was introduced to Tencel lyocell. It was described as a newer generation fiber made from cellulose that is much more sustainable than previous generations. When it was first created, the first use for this fiber was in making denim.
The brand “Tencel” lyocell was originally the property of the chemical company In Britain: Courtaulds. This fiber was the first foundation for Courtaulds, through it they entered the market of textiles. In a short time after that, the next development was Tencel Kai. This was a group in the Japanese textile industry that had a big role to play in promoting the fabric.
It did not take long after that development for an iconic new trend to be born: the “soft denim”. Jeans were made with a blend of Tencel lyocell and normal cotton. As a result, the product was much softer and felt much more comfortable. Manufacturers across the Americas, Asia, and Europe took up the trend. After that, global brands across the globe started manufacturing jeans that had some percentage of this fabric in them. A lot of us may not notice but the casual pants that we wear daily are a lot more appealing because of this process than what they used to be.
At the moment, the company producing the trademark Tencel is Lenzing AG, a company from Austria.
The Production Process Of Tencel
There are quite a few similarities between Tencel fiber and Rayon. Both of them are categorized as fibers that are “regenerated cellulose”. The way they are created also involves a chemical solvent dissolving wood fibers. The origin of this fabric may be natural, but the final product is still an artificial creation. As such, the fiber does not fall under the “synthetic” or the “natural” category, interestingly.
The origin of Tencel fibers is basically trees. Usually, eucalyptus, spruce, beech, and birch trees are used for their manufacture. Manufacturers make a pulp out of the wood of these trees. Then they use a special chemical solvent to dissolve the pulp. Finally, the solution is pushed through a device known as an extruder. What comes out are the fibers that can then be woven into this fabric.
These fibers can then be used for making garments. They can also be blended with other types of fabric, or simply used by themselves.
The Impact On The Environment
The Tencel trademarked fabrics are all made with environmentally responsible processes. The raw natural wood fibers are also always sustainable sources. Moreover, these fabrics have been certified as completely biodegradable.
But there is an important distinction to be made here. Tencel is the name of a type of lyocell fiber. However, that does not mean every fiber made from lyocell is branded Tencel. Thus, all of them do not have the guarantee of being environmentally friendly. Only original trademarked fabrics come with that promise. Lyocell without any trademarks may be made from sources that are unsustainable. They might also be a mixture, containing other fibers along with lyocell.
But what differentiates it from Rayon, which is known to be environmentally harmful? The production process of Rayon involved way more chemicals and energy than this fabric. The process is not only wasteful but also harmful to human health. In the case of Rayon, both the environment as well as the workers involved in the production process are put in danger.
In comparison, the Tencel production process only uses the wood harvested from trees grown in sustainable forests. Moreover, the chemicals used are nearly not as toxic and also far less in quantity. The chemicals also get recycled by the time the production process has finished. Tencel’s production system is circular in nature. This means that 99% of all the solvents and chemicals used for breaking down the pulp of wood are not only recovered but recycled as well.
Tencel fibers are also both compostable and biodegradable, and they can completely go back into being their original cellular form – just wood. On the website of Lenzing AG, one of their proudest claims is this.
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Some of the other fabrics commonly used also fall behind Tencel in several regards. For instance, when compared to cotton, 20% less water is consumed for making Tencel. Cotton production also involves 5 times more land than Tencel production.
However, the Tencel production process is not without its flaws. Even though the chemicals are less toxic and recycled, they are still harsh artificial chemicals. There are also harsh coloring dyes involved.
Tencel In Comparison To Other Fabrics
Tencel fabrics are usually used in making products such as pants, bedding, and shirts. Cotton and linen were usually the traditional fabrics for such items as well as others in which this fabric has become a replacement. Thus, the question is if there are any advantages to using Tencel over the traditional natural materials?
This fabric has numerous qualities that set it apart from the fabrics that are used more commonly. Tencel is better and more effective at absorbing moisture than cotton. This means the material is better for sweat-wicking than your usual cotton shirts. Sweat-wicking or moisture-wicking fabrics are known for 2 essential qualities: quickly moving sweat to the outer surface of the fabric, and drying rapidly.
For people who live in humid climates, Tencel has the possibility of being the most ideal fabric. It is also extremely beneficial for people whose skin is sensitive to humidity. Damp clothing can cause irritation for such skin, and this fabric can help reduce that.
The exterior surface of the fiber strands of Tencel has fine hairs. This makes it easy to mold the fabric. As such, manufacturers can shape these fibers into numerous shapes and forms. These range from giving a silky and soft finish to a texture that is as soft as suede. The final product, though, does not have to be compromised in any way.
The lyocell fibers of Tencel are also known for being resistant to wrinkles, breathable, and elastic. The ability of the fabric to let the skin breathe is so good that the activewear industry considers it as one of the top choices. In sportswear, it makes for one of the best alternatives for cotton.
However, even though the pros are many for Tencel, it does not come without its fair share of cons. Lyocell fabric, including Tencel, generally has a much higher price tag than other more common fabrics. The processing of this fabric is far more expensive because of the technology involved and the chemicals that go into processing it.
Furthermore, the amount of chemicals used to produce Tencel is quite significant. True, the chemicals may not be toxic in nature. However, the chemicals can still irritate the skin if the wearer has particularly sensitive skin.
Tencel is a durable fabric, there is no mistaking it. However, it is not as hardy as cotton. Traditionally, cotton has been proven to last through years of rigorous washing be it washing machines or high temperatures. Tencel fabrics, on the other hand, need to be treated more delicately to make them last longer.
Moreover, the breathability of Tencel makes it a worse choice than cotton when it comes to colder climates. It cannot trap heat as much as cotton can, as such, Tencel is better suited for warmer climates. Ironically, most of the countries where the climate is warmer are less economically powerful. As such, the more expensive option remains out of reach for the more suitable customers, while cotton reigns supreme.
As sustainability keeps gaining importance, commitment, and recognition, Tencel has every possibility of being one of the most significant fabrics in the fashion industry in the coming years. Many experts and industry insiders believe that there is hardly a reason for Tencel to not replace almost all other fabrics and in various items of clothing.
The material has a lustrous feel, is versatile, and is durable. Coupling that with the smaller carbon footprint, is a big promoting factor for this fiber.
But, the capacity for producing this fiber is presently much lesser compared to cotton as well as other fabrics. As a result, there is not enough quantity right now to think about the fiber being a widespread replacement. If the Tencel production facilities are expanded, its availability should increase while its production costs should decrease at the same time.
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Pressure is increasingly mounting on the industry of fashion to become more environmentally friendly in its practices. Consequently, it should only be a matter of time till this fabric’s production capabilities are expanded. The future should, thus, see it become one of the central fabrics in the fashion industry.