You might have seen a new type of fiber floating around on your clothes labels. Lyocell is the big textile right now, and its popularity is growing as more brands begin incorporating it into their garments. While it’s considered a cool new sustainable textile, can you really believe all the hype? Greenwashing lurks behind every corner, but fear not! We’re here to look at what makes lyocell great, and what you should know before buying it.
What is it?
Lyocell is a relatively new textile, first officially named in 1989. At the time, it was the first new fabric to be invented in thirty years, and it was a pretty big deal! Although Lyocell is man-made, it isn’t synthetic. Made from spun wood pulp, lyocell was created to fulfill a demand for a water-absorbent and eco-friendly textile on the market.
The fibers are made by dissolving the wood pulp in a solvent. From there, the pulp is dissolved, filtered, spun, washed, and dried to eventually create fibers to weave into all your favorite garments. Eucalyptus has more recently become the main plant to be used for its wood pulp, although the fibers can also be made with oak pulp.
The most important feature that characterizes the lyocell is that it’s made with a closed-loop process. More than 99% of the solvent used to make the textile is recycled in the process, significantly minimizing the amount of waste created. The solvent used with lyocell is also important. NMMO (N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide) solvent is less toxic than ethanol or sodium hydroxide solvents. The NMMO technology also conserves resources and is surprisingly simple.
Eucalyptus is used for the fibers further contributes to lyocell’s sustainability. Unlike most standard trees, bamboo grows very quickly, which reduces the risk for deforestation. It also uses the water it’s given more efficiently. Bamboo can grow a kilo of biomass for less water than most other crops.
When we throw away a plastic water bottle, or a polyester shirt, the chance that it will degrade in the landfill quickly is close to none. However, lyocell will start to degrade in 8 days, whereas synthetic fibers would start to break down after 12 weeks. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean your lyocell shirts will start falling apart in your closet!
Lyocell’s water-saving properties, paired with the NMMO technology, and the fact that it’s incredibly biodegradable, make the textile a superstar for waste and water efficiency.
Lyocell was created with feel and aesthetics in mind. You would never guess it’s made out of wood or bamboo by just feeling it. The fibers can feel different depending on what they’re turned into, but generally, lyocell is incredibly soft. Think of a mix between a fleece and a satin – yes, it’s that buttery and smooth! It’s also usually thinner than it is thick, and because of how water-absorbent it is, works perfectly for activewear.
Next time you go shopping, try to find different garments with lyocell in them and compare how they feel. You’ll be surprised by the variety of clothing it can be incorporated into and the wonderful softness it adds to the garments.
Currently, lyocell is being made by a lot of companies under a lot of different names. That may sound confusing, but what it means is that the eco-friendly textile is becoming a normal part of everyday fashion.
TENCEL is a particularly large producer of lyocell. The producer works with a plethora of brands including Levi’s, J. Crew, New Balance, Guess, and many, many more! This doesn’t mean that buying lyocell from a fast fashion store is automatically an eco-friendly choice. We recommend that you always do a little research on a company before purchasing from them. Although lyocell is awesome, it’s not quite awesome enough to forgive fast fashion!
Lyocell is very soft, but unfortunately, this means it can also be quite delicate. Your garments, especially if they’re 100% lyocell, should be cold (or hand) washed and not put in the dryer. They should also be ironed as little as possible.
This isn’t very convenient if you don’t like spending a lot of time and energy on one piece of clothing. Always look at the washing label on your clothing to make sure you care for your clothes as best as possible.
Only Biodegradable On Its Own
A very common mistake when people try to shop sustainably is not considering what other fibers are mixed into their clothing. Most garments are blends of different fibers. From polyester, to cotton, to spandex, more likely than not, most of your clothes are probably more than one kind of fiber.
A garment cannot be recycled or biodegrade easily if it isn’t made up of just one fiber. This is just something to keep in mind when shopping!
Waste But Not Energy Efficient
It isn’t incredibly surprising that making lyocell consumes a lot of energy. Today, most garment production eats up a lot of energy. This has to do with the fashion industry not being conscious of its energy consumption. Because this high energy use is so normal in the fashion industry, this con does not rule out its other important eco-friendly benefits.
If you want to buy lyocell while staying mindful of its energy consumption, look into how transparent the brand is with its production process. Transparency and sustainability often go hand in hand!
So What’s The Verdict
Give lyocell a try! It’s an interesting new textile that has a ton of environmental pros. Lyocell is genuinely sustainable – which is very exciting. However, don’t let greenwashing fool you into mindlessly buying it from fast fashion brands – lyocell will never cancel out their terrible labor practices and other wasteful and destructive production methods.
Have a look in your closet. Do you have anything with lyocell in it? We’d love to hear what your experience with it has been!
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- A Guide to Buying Sustainable, Fair-Trade and Cruelty-Free Clothing
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