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Fibre Focus: Lyocell

lyocell image blog fibre focus

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.