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Fabric Faceoff: Tencel vs. Organic Cotton

March 7, 2019
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This is it! The finals! From 8, we’re now down to the last two. Tencel and organic cotton: which of these will be crowned the winner of Fabric Faceoff?

These fabrics are up against each other on Green Story’s 5 criteria, a mix of eco-friendly qualities, manufacturer and customer needs, and specific fabric properties.

Two industry heavyweights go up against each other: Tencel and organic cotton. Tencel is a soft rayon fabric made from cellulose. It narrowly beat bamboo in the semis. Organic cotton is a natural, biodegradable fabric and a like for like replacements of its conventional counterpart, cotton. It too squeaked by in the semis against recycled wool.

Here’s how we scored them.

1. CO2 Emissions:

Lenzing’s production process is highly sustainable and circular. Thanks to that, Tencel has a much lower CO2 footprint than many other fabrics. However, wood pulp extraction is still carbon intensive. At the same organic cotton does not require any pesticides, but then fails to achieve a top score due to energy usage and losses in ginning.

Our score: Tencel – 5 | Organic cotton – 4
Winner: Tencel


2. Water Consumption:

Organic cotton uses 85% less water than conventional cotton but the cotton crop does need a lot of water to grow. Tencel’s closed-loop production system captures and reuses 99.5% of water and solvents. However, the Eucalyptus trees needed for pulp require are water intensive and require a fair bit of upkeep.

Our score: Tencel – 4 | Organic cotton – 3
Winner: Tencel


3. Cost:

Tencel has a lot of oversight and technological development around it. Unfortunately, this also means its significantly pricier to produce than cotton. Organic cotton is the industry winner as it’s availability is growing rapidly as a lot of areas in India switch over to organic.

Our score: Tencel – 3 | Organic cotton – 5
Winner: Organic cotton


4. Availability:

Cotton wins this hands down due to increased production globally, especially India. Given it’s controlled production, Tencel’s availability is still limited.

Our score: Tencel – 4 | Organic cotton – 5
Winner: Organic cotton


5. Other:

Both fabrics are pesticide free, and have high versatility. However, Tencel’s production process has better oversight and controlled. The quality of organic cotton varies, as one industry source put it, there’s more organic cotton being sold than being produced. Tencel is also softer, stronger and more durable than cotton. It also has stronger colour retention.

Our score: Tencel – 5 | Organic cotton – 3
Winner: Tencel

Presenting your champion:


This was really close. Tencel and organic cotton both have strong environmental characteristics. However, in the end Tencel had better product strengths (colour retention and durability for example) and a better quality control. Organic cotton, while widely available and comparatively inexpensive still has issues around certifications and ensuring the product is legitimate. The result is a bit surprising, but there’s never an easy answer! Tencel has edged its victories by 1 point all the way and that includes the final.

Final score: Tencel – 21 | Organic cotton – 20

The audience voted overwhelmingly for Tencel!