Conventional rayon production is an environmental mess, but many luxury brands keep using the stuff.
Most of us have experienced the airy drape and feel of rayon. It’s an alluring fabric that allows designers and consumers lots of freedom, and rayon fabrics take colors brilliantly. But for many of us those charms has been eclipsed by concern as we've learned more about the environmental costs associated with conventional rayon manufacturing.
All viscose rayons are made from plant or tree cellulose. Breaking down the cellulose pulp into a form that can be spun into fiber involves the use of toxic chemicals that can leach into water supplies and rivers, especially in the developing world where regulations are lax and enforcement erratic. Rayon textile production relies heavily on carbon disulfide, a chemical associated with endocrine disruption, kidney disease, heart attack, and other health issues.
Tencel is different. The ground pulp used to make it is processed in a closed loop system in which non-toxic organic solvents are recycled with a recovery rate of 99.5%. Algae is used to detoxify the tiny amount of remaining emissions, which are decomposed in biological purification plants. Tencel has been given the European Award for the Environment by the European Union. It also has Oeko Tex 100 certification, the international standard certifying it contains no harmful substances. Tencel also has received the European Community Eco-label flower symbol given to products and services with reduced environmental impacts.
As reported in this Vogue Business article, luxury brands have mostly been unresponsive to cleaning up production of the viscose rayon they sell. Brands like Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani get failing grades from monitoring organizations for their lack of transparency over viscose, or even a commitment to do something going forward. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single mention in the Vogue story of Tencel as the eco-friendly alternative to conventionally produced rayon.
Happily, you and I know better and go out of our way as consumers to choose carefully when it comes to protecting our planet.