What's a better material choice for a T-shirt: Tencel® or Cotton?
When first creating an Apres Surf + Surf range for Wild Atlantique, CEO Karen Mackay wanted to find an ideal, truly eco friendly material for the basis of the range. Something better than your average Cotton or Organic Cotton T-shirt. A material that offered inherent superior softness and exceptional wear properties, with an ethical and eco manufacturing process, and preferably made here in Europe!
It was a big ask and wasn't easy finding an Eco fiber that wasn't an Eco fraud! There are a lot of materials touted as 'eco-friendly' even 'all natural' ones like cotton, that are not as eco friendly as you would imagine. Combine that with looking for a softer feel and benefits that would be more superior than the standard choice of Cotton was a challenge, but we did it!
First though, let's consider how 'Eco friendly' are the Cotton options?
- Standard Cotton (uses lots of chemicals, fertilisers, dyes and water to produce, and creates a great deal of waste while losing colour fastness over time and continual washing).
- Organic Cotton (uses less chemicals and fertilisers, but still requires lots of water to produce and waste, lack of colour fastness).
- Recycled Cotton (made from fashion waste so it uses less chemicals and water in final process which helps with waste issues. However, it is rougher in texture and feel due to being a dryer fiber, it also has limited colour selections available too).
Finding a better option than Cotton that was eco friendly became the mission. After much research and some serious scouting around, Mackay settled on Tencel® material produced in Italy of Eucalyptus fibers by the German company Lenzing.
Tencel® is Lenzig's brand name for lyocell. As quoted in an excellent article by Ed Mass in Natural Life Magazine in 2009, detailing the advantages and eco credentials of Rayon, Modal and particularly our Lenzig's Tencel®. (See link for full article: https://www.life.ca/naturallife/0908/ecofiber_or_fraud Excerts detailed below...)
- Renewable cellulosic plant based fiber
- Tencel® is made from sustainably harvested Eucalyptus trees.
- Eucalyptus grows quickly and without irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers or genetic manipulation; it can also be planted on marginal land that cannot be used for food crops. The fiber yield per acre from the trees used in the Lenzing fibers is up to ten times higher than that of cotton. Also, cotton needs up to 20 times more water.
'One of the major “claims to fame” of lyocell material is its ability to absorb excess liquid (perspiration) – at a rate of fifty percent more than cotton – and quickly release it into the atmosphere. In doing so, lyocell supports the natural ability of the skin to act as a protective shell to regulate body temperature and maintain water balance. At the same time, lyocell’s moisture management does not give bacteria a chance to grow. Moisture is directly absorbed from the skin and transported to the inside of the fiber, rather on the surface where bacteria could grow.
As a result, clothing made of lyocell remains odor-free for multiple wearings and much longer than cotton. This means fewer washings and saving on water and energy as well as on the wear and tear that occurs on any fabric from the washing and drying processes. By contrast, synthetics have hundreds to thousands of times higher bacteria count over the same time periods as lyocell. Even better, lyocell’s anti-bacterial property is inherent to the fiber without the chemical additives that are used on synthetics and many cotton products.
...it's a “semi-synthetic fiber” reflecting the combination of the natural raw cellulosic material and a chemical manufacturing process that breaks down the cellulose so it can be “regenerated” into a fiber from the original pulp. Lyocell manufacturing, and that of Tencel® in particular, is an extremely environmentally friendly process...
Since regenerated fibers do not qualify for organic certification, other recognised eco standards that review the entire process chain for growing and harvesting the trees through the manufacturing and treatment processes must be applied to these fibers. One such award that has been given to Lenzing for Tencel® is the European Eco-Label, which addresses compliance with high environmental standards for production and products. ..Tencel® manufacturing is also about the recovery and reuse of up to 99.8 percent of the solvent. The remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants. In fact, the solvent is not acidic, does not remain in the fiber, and has been proven harmless in dermatological and toxicological tests....we need to remember that much of the total environmental impact of textile goods comes from their care. With lyocell fabrics, there is no need for fabric softener or whitening agents, and energy and water use can be decreased due to shorter washing machine cycles. So with this knowledge and careful shopping for respected eco-friendly labels, you can buy textiles from manufactured fibers that can be considered to be green. (Ed Mass is President and Founder of Yes It’s Organic, an online store for organic, fair labor, and eco friendly clothing and household goods. After being an environmentalist for over 40 years he decided to participate more directly by educating consumers. This article was first published in 2009.)'
In conclusion, our first Apres Surf + Sail range of men's, women's and children's clothing is made of Tencel® due in large part to the superior properties and eco manufacturing detailed above. In addition to the superior anti-bacterial and cooling effects of our material by comparison to Cotton, is the actual texture and feel of garments made with Tencel®.
It's ultra softness in feel and natural draping quality make it so much more luxurious than cotton garments. The ability to have any imaginable colour (it dyes well and maintains colour fastness) along with the ease of care and quick drying, make it perfect for vacations and time spent at the beach. Showcasing this unique material in our muted range of Sea-washed Irish Coastal colours.
In the end, Tencel® was just what Mackay was looking for in an ideal Tee and beach wear range. We hope you find it a wardrobe staple too!
All Photography by Suzy McCanny, Assets Models Agency.