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.