NATURAL OR SYNTHETIC?
Tencel is a man made natural fiber. Not to confuse with (manmade) synthetic fibers, which are not natural, like polyester.
The man made natural fibers are also referred to as semi-synthetic fibers, and you’ll also meet them as re-generated fibers. Tencel is one of them. Viscose/rayon is also one of them.
The term re-generated refers to the chemical process where the plant fibers become fibers that can be spun and used for textiles. Unlike cotton and linen, that are ‘just’ harvested and used more ore less as they are.
WOOD BECOMES FABRIC
Tencel is made of wood fibres from sustainable certified beech and eucalyptus trees.
Beech and eucalyptus trees has a brilliant ability to grow, where nothing else will, and they only require natural rain water to grow. The wood used in the production of Tencel comes from natural preservation of woods, an also from leftovers from the wood industry.
We’re going to have a bit of a chemistry lesson her in order to explain how Tencel is made.
The first thing is to break the wood down to tiny pieces.
Then it is transformed into pulp by the use of chemical solvents to retain the cellulose from the wood.
By using nano technology the pulp is turned into fibres consisting of so-called nano-fibrils, which are 500 times smaller than a cotton fiber.
The fibers can then be made into yarn that can be spun and then weaved or knitted.
What’s special about the unique structure of the fibers is their ability to be manipulated and get the exact shape and look you want. If it should look like wool, it looks like wool. If it should look like silk, it looks like silk.
This kind of fiber was first developed in the 80’s where the first breakthrough with nano technology took place. These fibres we’re named lyocell. Lyocell is the same as Tencel, and yet not.
Austria based Lenzing company owns the brand name Tencel for the fibers that are manufactured by them. So you can say that Tencel is lyocell, but not necessarily the other way around.
Kind of like Kleenex being a tissue, but a tissue not necessarily being a Kleenex.
Chemical solvents used to dissolve the fibers does not sound like something good now, does it?
Actually these solvents are one the reasons why viscose is a bit of an environmental fraud (depending on where and how it’s made).
What Lenzing does, is done in what they call a closed loop system.
It is both award winning and sustainably applaused and certified in all matters. Even though chemical solvents is part of the production process.
Lenzing has build their closed loop system to allow absolutely nothing to get out of it.
Up to 99% of the solvents are recycled and reused in the same system.
That also includes the water used to wash out the solvents from the fibers before it is made to become the fabric you are about to buy.
Before closing off the chemistry lesson, lets bring in the viscose/rayon again.
It’s mainly made using the same process (viscose/rayon is also made from wood pulp).
The difference is that the production of viscose/rayon is not environmental sustainable nor friendly. There isn’t the same certification and control like with Tencel.
The closed loop system does not exist in the same way for the production of viscose, and other types of solvents are used.
SO, the short story of Tencel is that it is one the top ranging fibres when it comes to sustainability, and now you might have a better idea why that is.
When you buy fabric for clothes I guess that you have one ‘above all’ criteria whether to buy it or not.
It has to be comfortable. No matter how sustainable, you’re not buying it if it isn’t comfortable. You nod (I hope). Then read on.
The unique composition of the fibers in Tencel gives the fabric some extremely favorable features when it comes to comfort.
- The structure of Tencel absorbs and emits moisture far better than, for example cotton.
And that’s really good for the body's natural need to breathe and lead moisture and heat away through the clothes we wear - while also being able to insulate when it's cold.
The temperature-regulating properties of Tencel are one of the reasons why it is often used for sportswear, where it’s necessary to transport moisture and heat away from the body quickly and efficiently so the skin is kept dry and tempered (which of course also applies, even if it is not sportswear ).
- The effective absorption of moisture makes Tencel a barely popular place to grow for bacteria. Compared to, for example, polyester, Tencel is much more hygienic due to its natural antibacterial function. This also requires much less washing (which is also good for the environment).
- Tencel is gentle to sensitive skin. The microscopic fibers form a surface and structure that does not irritate the skin and feels soft and comfortable.
- Tencel does not become static, so you will not experience it sticking to the body.
- The unique structure of the fibers makes Tencel able to bind colors far better than, for example, cotton - that means clothes that keep the color longer (and we like that).
- Tencel is not fragile. On the contrary, it’s a strong fiber and it's long lasting if you treat it properly.
Last but not least, it's beautiful to look at, and the comfortable soft structure drapes so well and is much less prone to wrinkles than for example viscose. I guess that’s also often a criteria when you buy fabric.
HOW TO TREAT IT
As mentioned, Tencel is not fragile. Thus, that does not mean that it can’t be destroyed in exactly the same way as the silk blouse, which, by a huge mistake ended in 60 degrees with the bed linen and then took the spin in the tumble dryer.
Here’s a few tips to avoid that scenario (ie, in addition to sorting the laundry properly, which obviously stands unmentioned at the top of the list):
- Only wash when there is an actual need to wash it. With the ability to transport moisture and the antibacterial effect, you will find that it doesn’t actually require washing as often as, for example, cotton. So turn off the autopilot and see if it’s actually necessary to wash. Smaller spots can be wiped off with a damp cloth and if it just requires refreshment (which is one of the most common reasons why we wash too much!), then air it and give it a steam trip with the iron. That will do wonders when it comes to refreshment
- When washing, only wash at 30 degrees. The fibers are so much better of with cold water (and and so is the environment).
- The fibers are weakest in wet condition. You will experience that it is pretty rigid and stiff when wet. Lay it out as flat as you can without pulling too much, and hang it to dry (keep it far away from the dryer). When it dries, it will soften up again.
- It depends on the weaving, but quite often Tencel does not necessarily need to be ironed after washing. It is also a matter of preference. The fibers will become softer and more wrinkle resistant when you wear it if you steam iron it on low heat. By experience, it's the steam and not the heat that needs to do the work. It's the combination of the warm moisture from the steam that works with the fibres, more than it’s the heat.
Do remember to wash before use, as Tencel often shrinks 5-8%.
HOW IS IT RELATED TO MILK?
Not much, really. But we often use milk as a tool to explain the touch and feel of Tencel.
You probably know viscose/rayon - a piece of classic soft and smooth viscose.
Imagine that it floats and drapes like water. It has very little substance, and when you pour it out on the table, it’s gone.
Then imagine Tencel as milk with a more creamy substance than water. When you pour it out on the table it stays there and does not float entirely out like the water.
Imagine the drape and touch of Tencel the same way, and you have a really good idea about the difference to how it feels compared to viscose.
With that analogy, we also snug in the story behind the name, since meet MILK is the name of the collections of sustainable qualities we will be launching.