Material Guide: What is viscose fabric, and is it sustainable?
Viscose is a material that often causes a bit of confusion - often described as a natural, sustainable fibre, with properties similar to silk.
Viscose, or rayon, is classified as a semi-synthetic fabric - made from wood, but chemically processed to derive the fibre, it’s neither classified as a natural material such as cotton, nor is it classified as a synthetic such as polyester, it falls somewhere in between. Due to the extensive processing needed to get the finished result, the viscose is still not classified as a natural material, and is rather referred to as “regenerated cellulose”.
So, is viscose sustainable?
Made from wood pulp, often from fast growing trees such as eucalyptus, beech and bamboo, it is true that the fibre is bio-degradable and in that sense a more sustainable option than polyester, however this is not the entire truth.
In fact, in today’s fast-fashion industry, viscose production often uses extremely energy, water and chemically intensive processes. Many harmful chemicals are used in the process of breaking down the fibre, some of them known to be triggers birth defects, skin conditions and cancer to name a few.
Fact is as well that, even if the trees used for viscose production generally are fast-growing trees, the harvesting of wood for viscose is even faster, and often takes place in already endangered forest areas. More than 70 million trees are harvested each year for the production of cellulosic fabrics, and many of them come from unsustainable sources.
**How can we improve?
**As innovation in textile production is growing, more and more alternatives are coming to market. The creators of Tencel, Lenzing, has recently launched a ‘new viscose’, EcoVero, said to be much more eco-friendly than the conventional option. They are claiming to have created a fibre with the same properties as viscose, but using 50% lower emissions and water impact in the production process, while only using wood pulp from certified and controlled wood sources, adhering to strict European EcoLabel standards.
New innovators such as Spinnova are also joining the movement of finding a sustainable alternative. Their revolutionary technology is using 99% less water than conventional cotton, and unlike viscose, they are using no harmful chemicals in the creation of the fibre. It’s a completely closed-loop process, where the only side product is evaporated water, which is also recycled back into the loop. The raw material they are using is completely made from FSC certified wood, while also looking into the possibility of using agriculture and bio waste as their main raw material. While the project is still in R&D stage, the company has received a lot of interest from innovation giants such as Lenzing and Brazil-based Fibria, and has big plans to expand and collaborate with brands in the future. They are planning a pilot production at the end of this year, and we are intrigued to follow the results.