Rayon Fabric, Modal & Lyocell: Differences & Sustainability

Giada Nizzoli

Rayon Fabric, Modal & Lyocell: Differences & Sustainability

If you’ve recently embarked on a sustainable fashion journey (well done!), you’ve probably bumped into these terms: rayon, modal, lyocell, or even Tencel. 

Much like Skins, these semi-synthetic fabrics actually consist of three generations of the same concept. In fact, they’re all created using one main material: cellulose fibres such as bamboo or tree wood pulp. 

However, while they’re often used interchangeably, rayon, modal, and lyocell are actually slightly different fabrics, even when it comes to sustainability.

Rayon fabric

Delphine Top made of sustainable rayon fabric

A proper hipster alternative that started relying on wood pulp before it was cool, rayon or viscose fabric is the first generation of cellulosic fibres. 

When was rayon first used in clothing?

Rayon was actually invented all the way back in 1846 and became more popular in the 1920s as a cost-effective alternative to silk. That’s why it was also known as ‘art silk’ (as in ‘artificial’).

While it was then overshadowed by cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon has been rising in popularity again as a more natural and eco-friendly choice.

Rayon fabric’s properties

  • Soft
  • Drapey 
  • Breathable
  • Moisture-absorbent
  • Biodegradable
  • Vegan

Modal fabric

COSSAC jumpsuit made of sustainable modal fabric

This second-generation fabric is an even softer variation of rayon, a property that makes it particularly comfortable as lingerie.

Modal fabric properties

  • One of the softest fabrics
  • High-wet strength (usually machine-washable)
  • Durable and resistant
  • Easy to blend with other fabrics
  • Moisture-absorbent
  • Even less likely to shrink than rayon fabric
  • Biodegradable
  • Vegan

Lyocell fabric & Tencel

Iron Roots Beechwood t-shirt made of sustainable lyocell

This third-generation technology was a welcome addition to the rayon fabric family. By using hydrophilic nanofibrils and an organic solvent, both the latter and the water can be reused in a closed-loop.

Extra eco-friendly points!

What is the difference between lyocell and Tencel?

The difference between lyocell and Tencel is simply that the former is a generic type of cellulosic fabric, whereas the latter is actually a brand name.

A lyocell fabric can be classified as Tencel if it contains 30% of branded fibres from the company that invented them (Lenzing AG).

Lyocell fabric’s properties

  • High perspiration (perfect for sportswear)
  • Soft
  • Breathable
  • Flexible and versatile 
  • Odour-free
  • Biodegradable
  • Vegan

Are rayon, modal & lyocell sustainable?

Overall, yes: rayon, modal & lyocell are actually some of the most sustainable fabrics.

This is because they’re produced from a renewable source (cellulosic plants) which is naturally biodegradable.

Their properties make them a more sustainable choice than both traditionally grown cotton—they don’t involve pesticides nor as much water—and highly polluting synthetic fabrics like polyester.

Emory lyocell jumpsuit

However, like with any fabric, it also depends on how a specific rayon, modal, or lyocell garment is produced and what practices are followed by each company. 

For example, rayon fabrics might no longer be biodegradable if they’re blended with synthetic ones. Their reliance on wood pulp can also worsen the problem of deforestation: that’s why it’s safer to buy viscose clothes made by brands that are transparent about their production methods.

Out of the three, we could say that rayon might be slightly less eco-friendly because it involves a chemically heavy production process, whereas lyocell fabric is the absolute best thanks to its genius closed-loop.

However, rayon, modal, and lyocell are still much more sustainable than most traditional fabrics.

Finding the right rayon, modal & lyocell products for your style 

Fallen in love with these soft sustainable fabrics? 

Instead of spending hours browsing different websites, you can find the best rayon clothes on Project Cece.

We’ve gathered the collections of over 400 fair trade brands, so you must simply use the material filter on the left to focus on rayon, modal & lyocell garments.

As breezy as these clothes!

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