Fibre Focus: Lyocell


Choosing a fibre from a design perspective can be challenging enough, but the fibre that a fabric is made from has numerous environmental and social impacts. It can be difficult to work out the best option when selecting a fibre.

Introducing Fibre Focus, our fabric blog that breaks down the various impacts of a fibre from an environmental, social justice and design standpoint. It is important to also consider any potential impacts a fibre might have if it were to become more popular.

Design advantages :

  • Strong and durable
  • Soft, breathable and lightweight
  • Excellent drape
  • High elasticity
  • Antibacterial and anti-odor
  • Relatively anti-crease compared to other fibres

Design disadvantages :

  • Generally a knitted fabric, and so there can be issues with screen printing
  • Lyocell is more expensive than other fibres

Environmental impacts :

  • Generally produced in a closed-loop production system. This recycles and reuses water and chemicals and minimises chemical water pollution
  • Lyocell is a man-made fibre produced from natural raw materials, usually wood pulp
  • Trees are renewable and absorb and sequester CO2 during photosynthesis
  • Trees must be felled to obtain the raw material
  • Lyocell biodegrades, unlike polyester
  • Mechanical equipment is used to spin the pulp into yarn – this results in carbon emissions
  • Anti-wrinkle fabrics require less energy during the consumer use phase
  • The production process involves amine oxide – which has numerous environmental and social impacts. However in a closed-loop production system amine oxide presence in effluent is minimised
  • Trees flourish under organic circumstances

Social impacts :

  • Creates jobs, which generate income for households
  • Income is dependent on mechanical factories or mills – unlike fibres that can be hand processed such as cotton or silk
  • Increased risk of occupational chemical exposure for lyocell producers
  • Low washing temperatures and anti-wrinkle properties can save households money during the consumer use phase

Positive potential impacts :

  • Cultivating the raw materials (trees) can preserve air, water and soil quality
  • Prevention of soil erosion
  • Preservation of natural biodiversity and ecological equilibrium
  • Increased tree populations
  • Decreased CO2 levels and increased oxygen levels
  • Lyocell’s durability means that it is a perfect candidate for upcycling
  • Decreased dependence on synthetic petrochemicals, and reduced demand for oil drilling
  • The eucalyptus tree is the most commonly used material for lyocell. Eucalyptus has many applications and can be used as a natural dye and for cosmetics and medicine

Negative potential impacts :

  • Increased risk of occupational chemical exposure for lyocell producers
  • Increased risk on amine oxide pollution
  • The trees used for pulp must be replaced, else the tree population will decline and the air quality will be impacted
  • Job loss for producers in other fibre sectors

So there you have it, a simple breakdown of lyocell’s impacts that you can keep in mind when buying, sourcing or designing.

Fiber Focus: Lyocel


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