Innovative Fibres: Part II

Innovative Fibres: Part II

Hi everyone,

I hope this finds you well.

As always, we begin by welcoming our new subscribers: Sophie, Sioned, Heike, James, Paul, Michael, Alexandra and Shobha. It's great to have you with us.

As a quick FYI: each Sunday I write about something in the spirit of sustainability... and I do my best to make it an educational yet enjoyable read. We post every newsletter into the archive as a resource in case you all of a sudden become curious about e-waste, for example.

String theory 🤣

A few weeks ago we began our exploration of natural fibres by looking at Bamboo and Linen. Today we'll continue the series by comparing and contrasting a further four innovative materials: Modal, Cupro, Tencel and Econyl.

Note however: whilst several of these textiles have a plant base, they are not necessarily considered "natural" fabrics.


Soft Modal. Image credit: Material District

The pulp of the Beech tree is spun, using energy-saving technologies, into a biodegradable and compostable fabric called Modal. Beech trees are grown without pesticides and require a lot less water than growing cotton. ✅

Why we recommend it:

Modal is created using resource-saving techniques, it is resilient and creates durable products, but it is still soft to touch with elasticity and antibacterial benefits. Its moisture-wicking properties means the fabric remains dry and warm.

Things to consider:

It is reported that more people can potentially have an allergic reaction to the beechwood fibre and it can discolour when exposed to heat. It has also been reported that some sources of beechwood fibre are coming from less reputable and less sustainable sources but purporting to come from sustainable producers. So, like any raw material, provenance is key.


A very comfortable looking Cupro set.

Cupro is made from the waste products that occur from processing cotton. The production process (detailed further below) involves copper, ammonia and caustic soda. So although the material itself is made from cotton fibres, Cupro is not considered a "natural" material, but rather a semi-synthetic man-made textile.

Here's how you make Cupro: ammonium and copper react with cellulose (in the cotton waste) to produce a cuproammonium compound. This substance is then put into caustic soda and forced through a device known as a "spinneret" to produce strings. These strings are then treated further to regenerate the cellulose by placing them in hardening baths to wash away and remove the copper and ammonium. Source: Ecoclothes.

Once spun, Cupro is a fine, soft fabric. It is most used in the fashion industry as an alternative to silk in anything from dresses to suit linings.

Why we recommend it:

Cupro is a cheaper, more sustainable, biodegradable and a vegan alternative to silk while retaining silk’s most desired properties of fineness and softness. Being lightweight, Cupro is also a more breathable fabric, but it is also more durable than silk, takes dyes well and can be gently machine-washed.

Things to consider:

Cupro is chemically-treated with some harsh chemicals which reduces its environmentally-friendly credentials. Like linen, it also wrinkles easily so is far from ideal for travelling.


Some Tencel sheets... I am drooling!

Tencel™ is the trade name for a material made by Austrian company, Lenzing. Unbranded, the material is called Lyocell. i.e. Tencel™ is to lyocell, as Kleenex is to tissues, and Hoover is to vacuum cleaners.

Tencel™ / Lyocell is made by dissolving wood pulp and cellulose, mixing it with a solvent and then spinning it to dry out. Like its cousin, Modal, Tencel™ is produced by forcing the raw material mix through small holes to create lengths of fibre, which are subsequently chemically-treated and spun into cloth.

The material has breathability and moisture-wicking absorption qualities make it a well-used material in sportswear and bed sheets.

Why we recommend it:

Tencel is biodegradable and uses less energy, water and pesticides in its creation. It comes from sustainable eucalyptus crops. The resulting cloth is soft, breathable, anti-bacterial and good for sensitive skin. It dyes easily and is easy to wash.

The material is cool to the touch, smooth, somewhat elastic and a bit heavier than other fabrics like cotton and silk. Bonus points also for the fact that it's much less likely to wrinkle than bamboo, cotton or linen.

Things to consider:

The process is less cost effective than other materials and so it can push up the pricing of finished products. Chemicals are still used in the processing of the material.


Sorry about the grizzly photo... but this happens and we need to be talking about it...

Econyl is made from ocean and landfill waste, primarily plastic, carpet and fabric scraps. The process involves melting down the nylon polymers using heat and steam (but happily no chemicals).

Why we recommend it:

Econyl reduces and repurposes waste in the sea and on land, helping our friends like Mr Turtlu , plus it doesn’t use chemicals in its treatment process and is driven with renewable energy. The final product has high elasticity and is often used to make products such as tights, leggings and other form-fitting apparel.

Things to consider:

Whilst its eco-credentials are strong, the material has its drawbacks. It is highly flammable, has poor resistance to UV light, doesn’t wick moisture so lacks breathability and isn’t particularly durable.


Voilà, voilà. I hope you have learned something from today's newsletter. I'm keen to explore Cork in a future edition, but please write back (simply hit reply) if there are some other textiles you're keen to learn about!

Wishing you a nice week ahead,

Jessica x

LUXTRA Founder | Textile Tutor | Proud B Corp-er

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