A Brave New World Of Sustainable Materials: Facts You Need To Know

Updated: Apr 26




The fashion world is changing, slowly taking on more responsibility for its impact on the environment. Many brands invest time and money to find better, more eco-friendly materials to reduce brands' impact on our planet. They partner with research labs to search high and low for new natural materials and exciting eco-combinations. The results are excellent but also confusing to a consumer. What is C-fiber, Tencel, Lyocell, or Grape Leather?

What are they? How are they better? And should I wear them?


Are You Green?

About ten years ago, if I went to any store and perused items reviewing tiny material/care tags, I would mostly see cotton, silk, wool, polyester, rayon, and nylon. I would instantly know whether I am looking at an expensive item made from silk or a cheap one made of synthetic materials.

Nowadays, things are not as simple but are moving in the right direction.

There are still many clothing brands that focus either on synthetic or natural fibers. But a growing number of brands are looking for alternative materials that are sourced and produced sustainably.


The fashion industry's drive toward sustainability and greener materials creates a whole new universe of fibers and production processes. The new materials pop up on garment tags all the time, and I rarely know what they mean.


What is Nulu material in Lululemon pants? What is C-fiber in the Pangaia dress?


I will do my best to research a few materials to learn more about them. Join me on this exciting journey!

Tencel

Tencel is a brand that focuses on the sustainable sourcing, production, and treatment of eco-friendly fibers. The brand's goal is to reduce fashion impact on the environment while offering sustainable, green, long-lasting materials.


"From their botanic origin, to the low environmental impact of production, to eventual biodegradability on disposal, TENCEL™ fibers exemplify sustainability in the textile industry." (Tencel Story)


Tencel Lyocell

Lyocell is one of the products/materials that the Tencel brand offers. Making the Lyocell fibers is a closed-loop production that is highly efficient and uses less energy and water.

It all starts with a smart, sustainable source. The wood is collected from sustainably managed forests. After the wood is collected, it travels to a chip factory to be converted into wood chips. Then wood chips are processed at pulp factories. The pulp is then processed to separate cellulose and convert it into the Lyocell fibers. The production utilizes renewable energy at every step, and 99% of the solvents are reused, creating a closed-loop production.

Since Lyocell fibers come from wood pulp, the product is fully biodegradable.

Tencel Modal

Tencel Modal is another product that the Tencel brand offers. Modal fibers are produced in the same way Lyocell is but with an added eco soft technology step. The production uses renewable energy, eco-conscious dyes, and less water.


Modal material ends up being very soft, delicate, extra breathable, and fully biodegradable. It is the perfect material for undergarments and lighter clothing.



C-Fiber

The C-fiber is an exciting material that The Pangaia brand uses for its products. The material consists of eucalyptus pulp and seaweed powder. The material is carbon neutral, water-saving, and 100% biodegradable.

C-fiber is a fantastic development and a huge step forward for the fashion world since both seaweed and eucalyptus are regenerative sources. Seaweed is abundant in our seas. It requires no freshwater to grow, maintenance aside from thoughtful sourcing. Eucalyptus trees require little care and can grow in arid lands with little irrigation or pesticides.


"Our latest innovation that turns nature into fabric using eucalyptus pulp from the Earth and seaweed powder from the ocean. This creates soft and silky styles you can wear that support the ecosystems we use to make it, and gives back to the planet what we take." (C-FIBER, Pangaia)

The production process is similar to the Lyocell process - it is a closed-loop process that reuses water and solvents. The production does not require freshwater; instead, ocean water and rainfall are used.

Grape Leather

Grape leather was born out of a desire to recycle waste left after wine production. Twenty-six billion liters of wine are produced every year with about 2.5 kg of "waste" (consisting of the shells, cores, etc.) per every 10 liters of wine. (Dan&Mez Blog, Grape Leather).

Unfortunately, grape leather on its own is not a viable material yet. It needs to be combined with polyurethane dispersion (PUD) to improve the material's physical properties. The addition of a chemical compound stops the final product from biodegrading fully.

Camel Wool

I have recently purchased a camel coat. I had no idea that camel wool is used in modern-day fashion.

I did some digging, and it appears that camel wool is eco-friendly and fully biodegradable. The camel yarn does not require dies or chemical treatment during production.

Bactrian camels are the types of a camel that are used to source camel yarn. Bactrian camels grow a thick undercoat that keeps them warm through a harsh winter. In spring, camels naturally shed the undercoat.

The undercoat varies in its quality. The high-quality fibers are soft and used in clothing production. The low-quality fibers are harsh and have to be mix with other fibers. (Sewport Blog, What is camel wool fabric).

Research, innovation, and the desire to improve are incredible qualities that we need to foster and encourage within ourselves and others. Whether you are in fashion, design, manufacturing, or teaching, we have to always look for ways to improve. The environment and earth have no advocates or soldiers. We must protect it! We can have the future only if we invest in it now.

I am excited to see the change in the fashion world. I hope many, if not all, brands will soon join the eco-conscious movement to steer consumers away from synthetic, toxic, and non-degradable products.


Please always check a clothing care tag and try to buy sustainable, eco-conscious products.