Let's talk sustainable materials - and an alternative to polyester



Having the vision to make sportswear without polyester is one thing - but actually doing it and finding great alternatives is another. 

And I can tell you - it is this vision that made me spend hundreds of hours researching, participating in a sustainable fashion program, visiting textile fairs, touching hundreds of materials, talking to tons of material experts, and working out in all kinds of different materials. 

Now, reflecting over all that I absorbed and experienced throughout these months I can say this: Polyester and its friends like polyamide and nylon are still by far the most dominant materials used in sportswear, recycled versions of polyester (think recycled PET bottles sportswear!) are on the rise, and sportswear made from more natural origins is almost non-existent except maybe for your regular cotton shirts. 

On the other side I have noticed voices that have become louder and louder - these are the voices of you guys including myself who don’t want to accept this and demand sportswear that is free from polyester (yes, even recycled one!), doesn’t harm the environment nor our health, and performs great when working out. 

And I believe that it is exactly these voices that can make a change.

Voices that make me keep on pushing and looking for alternatives.

On my search I came across some very interesting materials - materials that are still very niche, but which have huge potential and are suitable for sportswear.

Let me introduce one my favorites - Tencel lyocell. 

TENCEL IS MUCH MORE SUSTAINABLE 

What actually is Tencel, and to what extent is it sustainable?

Tencel lyocell fibers got introduced by the Austrian company Lenzing. They came up with a process to produce fibers that are derived from sustainable wood sources, harvested from controlled and certified sources using a closed-loop production process.

This circular process transforms the wood pulp, which is mainly derived from eucalyptus for their lyocell fibers, into cellulosic fibers.

The amazing thing is that this process doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals, and the water and solvent used for the production is reused at a rate of more than 99%. 

Let’s pause here for a second to give you context: Most pollution and harm in the fashion industry happens at the textile production stage - lots of water is being used and wasted (i.e. not reused), and tons of chemicals are released to nature, polluting precious water supplies (read more of this in “5 truths about fashion and how it impacts you and the planet”).

Using a circular process for making fibers, i.e. reusing the water and the non-toxic solvent over and over again is truly an innovation and a huge step forward into making textile production much more sustainable.

And due to its natural origins the Tencel fibers are also fully biodegradable and compostable in only a short amount of time.

Now, when it comes to the growing and cultivation of eucalyptus trees, they require very little if even no pesticides or irrigation, which makes it a much friendlier alternative to e.g. cotton which requires huge amounts of water and pesticides. And also, the trees come from certified forests which ensures that only dedicated forest areas can be used.

TENCEL IS GENTLE ON YOUR SKIN - AND CAN KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORKOUT DEMANDS

Due to its clean production process, Tencel doesn’t include chemicals that other materials such as e.g. polyester have shown to include (read more on this in “What’s in your sportswear? Some insights into polyester and human health”. ) - which is also great news for people with more sensitive skin and those who might have allergies for synthetic fibers such as polyester. 

As part of the testing of materials for Tripulse, I have worked out and sweated in Tencel and have been amazed by how well it performs also during heavy workouts - I did Crossfit in it, ran in it, boxed in it, and the list goes on.

So not only words on paper, but also my own experience can confirm the following benefits of Tencel for sportswear:

  • It feels cool and dry. The moment my skin touches Tencel, I immediately feel a cooling effect on my skin. It goes without saying that this is a great feature to have when working out and to help you cool down while giving your best physically.
  • It enhances breathability. Tencel supports body temperature regulation as the fibers are structured to regulate the absorption and release of moisture. 
  • It is strong. Tencel fibers are stronger compared to other cellulosic fibers and are thus more durable. 
  • It reduces the odour problem. Unlike polyester and cotton, Tencel doesn’t develop a strong smell when sweating.

And my personal biggest benefit - I don’t feel any longer that I’m wrapped into a plastic bag when working out, but feel immediately that I have something much more natural on my skin.

Something that gives me great comfort and a good conscience that I’m not ruining my health and the environment by wearing the very clothes that are so dear to me and are the very basic of one of my favorite things in the world - sports.

IT DOESN’T STOP HERE…

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a huge fan of Tencel. But I’m a critic as well.

I strongly believe in this material as a much better and superior alternative to polyester, but I think it is important to keep on questioning, improving, innovating. Always.

One thing to watch out for is e.g. when buying products that are made outside of Europe or any other countries that have high production standards and policies. 

Buying lyocell products from countries that have lower or non-existing regulations when it comes to textile production, environmental impact, worker rights and compensation, can mean that even a lyocell textile is not very sustainable anymore.  

Also, when dyeing lyocell it is important that harmful chemicals are avoided. Certifications that ensure that these kinds of chemicals have been excluded can help, such as REACH.

With that said, it is so important to look at the complete picture and to not jump to conclusions too fast when seeing Tencel lyocell on your clothing label, even if it’s green. 

It’s important to look at the entire, and frankly, very complex, textile supply chain to make sure you make a truly sustainable choice when buying clothes. 

TENCEL WILL BE PART OF THE TRIPULSE COLLECTION 

I’ve been getting questions from you asking me what kind of materials Tripulse will use, if not polyester. And this is my answer - Tencel will certainly be a key ingredient.

As we are still in the product development phase, we are still adjusting and testing. This means things can change along the way - but rest assured that Tencel lyocell will be a key material of the first Tripulse collection. 

With Tripulse my aim is to make it as easy and transparent as possible for you to make sustainable choices in sportswear by offering you a “one-stop-shop for great performing sustainable sportswear”:

The homework has been done for you and you can have a good conscience choosing sportswear that offer you the best possible alternative out there...while we are constantly on the lookout for the next level of sustainability and performance in sportswear.

Welcome to the Tripulse community!

To learn more about the exciting world of sustainable textiles, sports and sustainability, and to be the first to know when we´ll launch our sportswear, just leave your email address and sign up for our Tripulse news below. 

 

2 comments

  • Hi Inga,

    thank you so much for your great and interesting comment. Couldn’t agree more with you on what you say about the need to rethink sportswear mass production which is full of plastics nowadays.

    I had similar experiences to you when it comes to fabrics like cotton and miss sport-friendly features such as sweat-wicking. Lyocell is made from different plants and fibers that are actually really suitable for sports as I described in the post. But best is of course to try it out yourself and to make your own opinion – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed though:).

    Good point also with the merino wool. Yes, I also looked into other fibers, and constantly am, merino wool being one of them. For the first Tripulse collection, merino wool won’t be used, but I don’t want to exclude it completely for the future either.

    Though merino has many great sport-friendly features, it comes with its unique challenges: Mulesing is a common and horrible practice in the production process and as animals are involved, it is even more important to monitor closely how they are kept etc. As sustainability, including animal welfare, is at the core of Tripulse, we want to make sure to make the most sustainable and informed decisions, especially when it comes to the materials. But rest assured that we are always on the lookout for the latest, innovative and sustainable materials out there.

    Can’t wait to hear from you and get your feedback once you tried the Tripulse collection:).

    Franziska from Tripulse
  • I am very happy to read someone started doing something more sustainable in the sportswear field. I think it’s very necessary to rethink the actual situation in the sportswear mass production. Many people still don’t know, that most of the “great performance fabrics” are made from “plastic”-fibers and that the low prices are based on unfair production conditions.
    I found it very interesting that you will start your project with cellulosics as I made the experience that it does not have the optimum behaviour when sweating. But as you said you will use lyocell because it showed for example good moisture transport, I am very curious about you first products😊 what I am very interested in is, if you thought about using natural growing fibers, such as merino wool? Merino is also booming at the moment as it is a natural high performance fiber…
    Good start and all the best, Inga

    Inga

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