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Spotlight on sustainable vegan textiles: lyocell, modal and bamboo

by Summer Edwards | Posted on November 11 2016

Post by guest writer Summer Edwards

Veganism is one very important part of in the ethical fashion industry. Often choosing vegan fashion is the easiest way to ensure that your wardrobe is cruelty-free. Bead & Reel is a vegan boutique to help you make your transition to a cruelty-free wardobe. Even if you haven't made the commitment to a completely vegan lifestyle, you can still make a positive difference by choosing vegan cruelty-free fashion. However, not all vegan textiles are created equal, and some do a great deal of harm to wildlife, habitats, and the people that produce them. To ensure that your clothing is a genuinely ethical choice, you need to know your sustainable textiles. Last month I gave you an introduction to natural fibres that are sustainable and cruelty-free. It worth a read, if you haven't seen it yet. This month we look at the semi-synthetic textiles lyocell, modal and bamboo

This group of textiles is known as the semi-synthetics because they are manufactured from natural materials, but these materials are transformed into fabric using a process that involves chemicals. The final product is biodegradable and is thus often touted as a sustainable choice. But the origin of the natural materials, the nature of the manufacturing process, and the nature of the chemicals used determines whether a textile is genuinely sustainable or not. 

Guide to Semi-Synthetic Textiles


Lyocell is probably one of those textiles that you have seen written on labels and wondered what it was. I remember wondering when I started to become more committed to sustainable fashion. I remember asking a sales attendant once and they could not answer me. (Actually, that may have been the pivotal experience that led me to become a bit of a nerd on the topic of sustainable textiles!) 

Lyocell is one vegan textile that is a very sustainable choice. It is made with woodpulp and manufactured using chemicals that are considered low impact, and the process of manufacturing is closed loop (this means that the chemicals are captured and reused continuously, rather than released as waste water). The final product is non-toxic and biodegradable. 

Some lyocell can be derived from plantations using GM eucalyptus crop. If you are concerned about GM, you can avoid this entirely by choosing a trade-marked version of lyocell called Tencel. This certified textile is guaranteed to be made from sustainable managed forestry that does not contain GM. 


Modal is another fabric that is very similar to lyocell. It manufactured from woodstock using a closed loop chemical process, and the chemicals and continuously reused in the manufacturing 'loop' rather than released as waste. Just like lyocell, it is fully biodegradable, and also suitable for natural and low impact dyes. 

So, in general, modal is a very sustainable choice for your vegan wardrobe. However, there is a significant amount of modal in the fashion supply chain which is made with woodstock that is obtained through deforestation. This is such a critical issue that the Rainforest Action Network is running an advocacy campaign on the issue. As a rule of thumb, modal garments that are manufactured in Indonesia, China and elsewhere in Asia are likely to be made with Indonesian woodstock. Deforestation is Indonesia's biggest contribution to climate change, and cannot be ignored as a sustainability issue. But is also cannot be ignored as an animal rights issue, with many Indonesian rainforest animals on the critically endangered list due to habitat loss. To avoid this in your fashion choices, look for modal that has been made in Canadian or US textile mills. Many US and Canadian made brands will use sustainable modal. 

Guide to Semi-Synthetic Textiles


Bamboo is a complicated case in sustainable fashion, and most bamboo on in the fashion system cannot be considered sustainable. But it could be an ideal sustainable vegan textile, if some changes were made to production. So let's look at the issues.

The reason that bamboo has a reputation for being a eco-friendly choice comes down to it's benefits as an agricultural crop. Bamboo can be grown without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. It grows quickly, easily and prolifically on marginal, rain fed land. This means that is does not take land away from food crops, and it does not put pressure on natural water resources. Bamboo as a wood product is a highly sustainable material to make homewares, furniture and flooring out of. 

However, it is when bamboo is processed into a textile that the complications arise. The majority of bamboo is the fashion supply change is viscose. Unlike modal and lyocell, the process to manufacture viscose is not closed loop. A significant amount of polluting chemicals is wasted in the process of producing viscose, and in these chemicals can often be released untreated into waterways. For this reason, bamboo viscose is far from ideal if you are concerned about sustainability and about animal habitats. 

However, there is some good news when it comes to bamboo for textiles. A small about of bamboo lyocell is on the market. This combines that sustainable closed loop process of lyocell, with all the benefits of bamboo as a crop. Sadly, I haven't yet found any fashion brands who have embraced this fabric. I have only found one company- a sustainable bedlinen brand called ettitude- that uses bamboo lyocell currently. But I hold high hopes for the potential of bamboo lyocell to make it's mark on sustainable vegan fashion. 

Bamboo is frequently used by eco conscious brands, and it is far superior to many vegan textiles on the market. You can find a small range of bamboo garments here and at many other eco-conscious boutiques. However it is generally a textile that I prefer to avoid if there are better options available, and Bead & Reel is moving away from stocking bamboo viscose for more sustainable fabrics. If you are choosing between conventional cotton or bamboo, then bamboo is the better option. But if you are choosing between bamboo and modal or lyocell, I would recommend choosing modal or lyocell. 

Guide to Semi-Synthetic Textiles

Garment Care & End-of-life

These textiles are reasonably hardwearing and can be washed in a standard washing machine. If possible, line dry your washing to reduce your energy use. Each of these fabrics is well suited to natural dyes. But these dyes fade more quickly. If you have chosen a garment which has been coloured using natural dyes, hang them inside or in the shade to dry. 

Finally, when your garments do wear out, these fabrics are all biodegradable. You can pop them in the compost when they have reached the end of their life. If you don't have access to composting facilities (either industrial, or in your own or a community garden) then try to reuse them as cleaning cloths, face washers or even dish cloths to extend their useful life and keep them out of landfill. 

If you enjoyed getting an insight into the your sustainable vegan textile options, you will get a lot out of my Guide to Sustainable Textiles- a 60 page guide to all the sustainability considerations for textile choice in your wardrobe. At only $9, it gives you all the information you need to be able to make sustainable choices when shopping for your wardrobe. 

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