19 Feb

Material Guide: What Is Tencel? And Is It Sustainable?

Tencel is a popular fabric of choice for eco-conscious clothing brands. It’s light and versatile, and used in everything from casual wear to underwear to activewear. But what impact does it have on people, the planet, and animals? Is Tencel ethical and sustainable? We’ve put together a cheatsheet to help demystify this fabric and put the power back in your hands.

What is Tencel?

TENCEL® is actually a brand name owned by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. While Tencel can also refer to Lenzing’s modal fabric, usually the ‘tencel’ label is referring to Tencel lyocell.

How is Tencel made?

Tencel is a type of rayon, like viscose and modal. These cellulose fibres are all made in a similar way: by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning. Before drying, the wood chips are mixed with a solvent to produce a wet mixture. This mixture is then pushed through small holes to form threads, chemically treated, then the lengths of fibre are spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Sounds simple enough—but what kind of environmental footprint does this process have?

So how does Tencel impact the environment?

Tencel lyocell is better for the environment than other similar fabrics, but not as sustainable as top-tier fabrics like organic linen or recycled cotton.

In production, Tecnel requires less energy and water than conventional cotton. As a plant-derived fibre, Tencel is also biodegradable, but check that it isn’t mixed with other synthetic fibres like nylon when it comes time to dispose of the garment. Although, like most materials, it is often coloured with harmful conventional dyes, Tencel requires a lot less dye than cotton. It is also pure white when produced, so no bleaching is necessary and undyed is always an option.

Tencel vs traditional viscose and rayon

There are two main ways TENCEL lyocell differs from most other fabrics made from wood fibre:

First, at the chemical treatment stage. The traditional viscose process is chemically-intensive, using harmful sodium hydroxide. Tencel replaces it with the NMMO process. The solution of N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide is more easily recoverable, and a closed-loop solvent system means almost no solvent is dumped into the ecosystem. Instead, it is recycled time and time again to produce new fibres and minimise harmful waste. Lenzing AG says the solvent recovery rate for their version is an impressive 99%.

Second, Tencel is made from sustainably sourced wood, while around 30% of rayon and viscose used in fashion is made from pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests. Lenzing AG states it sources from sustainably managed PEFC or  FSC tree plantations. This is good news, considering concerns about the increasing impact of viscose production on deforestation.

Other sources of lyocell

Lyocell fabric is also manufactured by a company called Birla, under the name Excel. In 2017, the Rainforest Alliance assessed Birla as at low risk of sourcing products from ancient or endangered forests or other controversial sources. Birla also claims to recover over 90% of chemicals used in Excel production. This is an industry-leading result, so clothing made from Birla-sourced lyocell is another good option.

As versatile as it gets

Tencel fabric is extremely versatile. Depending on the length of the fibre chosen in production, varying thickness and texture can result. From a cottony feel to a silky one, the fabric adapts to a wide range of clothing types, from activewear to flowy dresses.

According to Lenzing, Tencel has incredible absorption characteristics: 50% more than cotton. Because it’s more breathable and less susceptible to odorous bacteria growth like environmentally-damaging synthetics, this fabric is ideal for activewear. Perfect for a sweaty gym or bikram yoga session!

While it is pricier than your average workout tank top, we believe it’s always worth prioritising quality over quantity. If exercising is part of your daily routine, consider investing in high-quality, durable garments that are good for your skin, such as those made from Tencel. If you look good, feel good, and do good for the environment, nothing can stop you from achieving your personal best!

Here are some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ rated brands that use Tencel:

Tasi Travels

Rated: Good
woman wearing moss green sustainable tencel dress by Tasi Travels

The Escape Moss Dress – Ships internationally from Australia

For travelwear designed for adventures, look no further than Australian brand Tasi Travels. Boasting a stunning collection of handmade garments in eco-friendly materials that are made-to-order, you can feel good out in the world knowing you are leaving a light footprint behind. Garments come in sizes XS/S, S/M, and M/L.

See the rating.

Shop Tasi Travels.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great
plus size model woman wearing light green tencel sleepwear set by MATE the Label

Tencel Sleep Pants – Ships internationally from the US

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.


Rated: Good
dark green tencel joggers by ethical brand tentree

Tencel Pacific Joggers – Ships internationally from Canada

Canadian brand tentree believes big change starts small. Small as in bringing your reusable bag to the grocery store, making fewer, more thoughtful purchases, and choosing to purchase sustainably when you do. The brand plants ten trees for every item purchased to help regenerate ecosystems and provide planting jobs in communities around the world, and has already planted over 65 million trees.

All tentree’s products are created with an Earth-First approach, meaning they're made in fair, safe working conditions, and constructed using only sustainably sourced and recycled materials. tentree’s super comfy fabrics and easy wardrobe staples are typically available from XS to XL.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.


Rated: Great
Close up shot of black TENCEL shorts made by Tripulse.

TENCEL™ Made to Move Shorts – Ships internationally from Sweden

Tripulse is a Swedish activewear brand on a mission to create high-performing activewear that protects our planet and its people. The brand believes that fitness, both physical and mental, is the foundation for a good and healthy life and gives people the courage to live the life they dreamed of, to become their best selves, to make bold moves, and to change the world for the better. Find most items in sizes XS to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Tripulse.


Rated: Good
Someone wearing a TENCEL underwear set by Proclaim that matches their medium skin shade.

TENCEL Mid-Rise Brief – Ships internationally from the US

Los Angeles-based Proclaim makes beautiful bras, underwear, and basics from eco-friendly materials like recycled plastic bottles and TENCEL. Its designs come in three shades of "nude", building inclusivity into the brand. It also ensures the people in its California factory earn a living wage, and visits suppliers regularly. Find the range in sizes S-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Proclaim.

Dawn Denim

Rated: Great

Sustainable Tencel Denim – Ships internationally from the US

Dawn Denim is a German denim brand that features jeans that fit our times. The brand strives to empower women to change the way clothes are made, sold and worn. Making your butt look good in jeans is a welcomed side-effect.

See the rating.

Shop Dawn Denim.

Shop Dawn Denim @ Cerqular.

Jackfruit the Label

Rated: Good
Two people wearing unisex boxers by Jackfruit the Label.

Boxer Briefs – Ships internationally from Australia

Jackfruit the Label is an Australian brand that houses slow and ethical underwear that is comfortable, long lasting, and earth friendly, using bamboo and organic cotton. Available in AU sizes 6-26.

See the rating.

Shop Jackfruit the Label.


Rated: Good
grey tencel mix boxers by Patagonia

Men’s Essential Boxers – Ships internationally from the US

Patagonia is a brand that truly lives and breathes the great outdoors. It makes clothing for trail running, climbing, mountain biking, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding. Patagonia has strong labour rights and uses recycled, rather than virgin, polyester. It has also committed to reducing its energy use and emissions, and stocks sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Patagonia @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Patagonia @ Labell-D.

Shop Patagonia Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Shop Patagonia Kids Pre-Owned @ Retykle.

Shop Patagonia.

The Very Good Bra

Rated: Great

V for Victory Bra – Ships internationally from Australia


A white patterned plastic free bra by The Very Good Bra.

The Very Good Bra – Liberty Pansy Bra

A 100% plastic-free bra for Plastic Free July. Everything in this bra, including the elastic, threads, hook, and eyepieces are botanically circular, designed to break down in nature at end-of-life and leave no trace. Exclusive 15% off Liberty Pansy Bra with code GOODONYOU15. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU15
Shop now

The Very Good Bra is an Australian womenswear label that houses lingerie and other basics for the modern woman. Find most bras in cup sizes A to E, and clothes in S-L.

See the rating.

Shop The Very Good Bra.

TAMGA Designs

Rated: Great
pink tencel shirt with trees please logo by TAMGA Designs

Trees Please Crew Neck – Ships internationally from Canada


someone reclining on a seat in a bright pink mid length eco dress by TAMGA Designs.

TAMGA Designs – Basics

Soft and sustainable basic tees, dresses, and skirts in colourful hues. Exclusive 10% off basics with code GOODFOR10. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODFOR10
Shop now
Someone sitting by the ocean wearing a long floral dress ethically made by TAMGA Designs.

TAMGA Designs – Bottoms

Statement skirts and pants to complete your sustainable summer wardrobe. Exclusive 10% off bottoms with code GOODFOR10. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODFOR10
Shop now
Someone standing in a cobbled lane wearing a green loose floral print eco top by TAMGA Designs.

TAMGA Designs – Tops

Flattering tops with thoughtful details, available in sizes XS-2XL. Exclusive 10% off tops with code GOODFOR10. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODFOR10
Shop now
Someone standing in the water wearing a long floral eco-friendly dress by TAMGA Designs.

TAMGA Designs – Dresses

Twirl-worthy floral dresses crafted from botanic fibres and eco dyes. Exclusive 10% off dresses with code GOODFOR10. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODFOR10
Shop now

TAMGA Designs is a sustainable social enterprise that helps to create opportunities for disadvantaged people and serves up gorgeous, flowy designs that will glide you into warmer weather with poise and grace. TAMGA offers a range of tops, skirts, dresses and accessories made from 100% Micro TENCEL®. Find the range in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop TAMGA Designs.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good
woman of colour wearing long deep teal tencel jacket by Whimsy + Row

Gia Jacket – Ships internationally from the US

Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and sustainable practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern, sustainable woman. Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources. Find most products in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.


Rated: Good
woman of colour wearing orange tencel sustainable pants by Oh Seven Days

The Thursday Crease – Ships internationally from Turkey

OhSevenDays was started by Australian-Canadian Megan Mummery to promote slow fashion and the "power of circularity". Based in Istanbul, the brand reclaims end-of-roll fabrics from the city’s garment factories and creates sharp, everyday womenswear that’s as wearable as it is ethical. Essentially, it makes slow fashion from fast fashion's leftovers. OhSevenDays' garments are available in sizes XS-XL or custom sizing.

See the rating.

Shop OhSevenDays.

Shop OhSevenDays @ SlowCo.

Mother of Pearl

Rated: Good
woman wearing tencel plaid black and white dress shirt by Mother of Pearl

Whitney Check Dress – Ships internationally from the UK

Mother of Pearl is a sustainable and ethical luxury womenswear and accessories designer brand from the UK that celebrates individuality and authenticity. The brand uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton and ensures the payment of a living wage across some of its supply chain. Find most products in UK sizes 6 to 16.

See the rating.

Shop Mother of Pearl.

Shop Mother of Pearl @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Mother of Pearl Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.


Rated: Good

Ronnie Lounge Blush – Ships internationally from the US


Someone wearing an orange bikini set by Altar Houseline.

Altar – Altar Houseline

This is Altar's flagship line: produced in their Portland studio and with their factory partners in Los Angeles. Every style is available in sizes XS-6XL, and made in the USA using sustainable, deadstock textile sourcing with ethical manufacturing. Exclusive 20% off Altar Houseline for your first order with code ALTARHOUSLINE/GOODONYOU20%OFF! (Ends: 31 JUL)

Shop now
Someone wearing a black Alter Houseline Basics outfit.

Altar – Altar Houseline Basics

Altar Houseline has been working on a new collection of basics made from deadstock materials that are affordable, elemental, and highly layerable for every day wear. Exclusive 20% off Altar Houseline Basics for your first order with code ALTARHOUSLINE/GOODONYOU20%OFF! (Ends: 31 JUL)

Shop now

Altar is a US-based boutique that specialises in alternative and custom fashion, apothecary, and gifts. The brand celebrates independent manufacturers and artists from across North America, with a focus on the stories that are woven into their work. Its clothing brand, Altar Houseline, is proudly made in America using deadstock materials and serves size gradations from size S to 6XL.

See the rating.

Shop Altar.


Rated: Good

The Tank Maxi Dress – Ships internationally from Canada

Franc is a Canadian brand that makes basics so you can enjoy a complete wardrobe built on timeless essentials. The brand ranks 'Good' on all fronts: it uses eco-friendly materials, pays a living wage and uses no animal products. Find most products in sizes XS to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Franc.

Learn more about sustainable and ethical materials.

Editor's note

Feature image via Mother of Pearl, all other images via Unsplash, and brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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