CHOOSING TENCEL OVER VISCOSE:
CHEMISTRY, TREES AND COMPLEX ISSUES
Over the years, we've learned that viscose, also known as rayon, isn't quite the natural fiber we thought it was. Yes, it's made with trees, which are a renewable resource, and, yes, it lets us create washable, virtually wrinkle-free fabrics that range from cozy to silky. But the more we know about viscose, the more questions we have. That's why VISION2020 calls for a commitment to another tree-based fiber, Tencel®, a trademarked form of lyocell produced by Lenzing.
Tencel®/lyocell fiber benefits:
- Forestry: Tencel® is made from sustainably harvested trees. (The forestry behind generic lyocell may be sustainable, but it is not guaranteed.)
- Chemistry: Wood pulp is converted into fiber using a solvent that has low toxicity and is recycled in a closed-loop process, which means that 99.5% of chemicals are reused.
Viscose fiber concerns:
- Forestry: Wood sources are not always traceable, particularly if the fiber does not come from a responsible mill.
- Chemistry: Viscose fiber is not processed in a closed loop, so new chemicals are continually required. Its production is much more energy and chemically intensive than Tencel® or lyocell.
- Worker health: The solvent used is highly toxic. When pulp is turned into fiber, workers must wear respiratory masks to protect against airborne carbon disulfide; hazardous wastewater requires careful treatment.
VISION2020: The Challenges
Why don't we give up viscose immediately and substitute Tencel® in all fabrics? Unfortunately, Tencel® is a very different fiber. Not only does its structure differ–strands are round instead of serrated—Tencel® has a more cottony feel. Viscose, which was invented in the 1940s as a substitute for silk, is more versatile. It can be dry, crepey, cozy, shiny or polished, depending on how it is turned into yarn.
Certain mills do make viscose fiber responsibly and we now source almost all of our viscose from Lenzing, which operates mills in Europe, Indonesia, China and the United States. At Lenzing, up to 70% of the solvent is directly recycled and reused. Most of the remaining solvent is converted to sulfuric acid and recycled. Lenzing sources its wood pulp for viscose from forests that are managed according to local regulations and laws; in some cases third-party certifications are available.
Over the years, we have directed our viscose supply chain toward Lenzing fiber. It can be found in a number of our best-selling fabrics, including Washable Stretch Crepe and Viscose Jersey.
While we are confident that health and environmental safeguards are used at Lenzing's mill, we are researching replacements with the same or better qualities. We're making progress. Stay tuned as we introduce a Tencel® version of our best-selling Viscose Stretch Ponte.
Learn more about our commitment to sustainable forest products and our partnership with the nonprofit group Canopy, www.canopystyle.org/leaders.