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Image by Mel Poole



Viscose is seen as an alternative fabric which is sustainable. It is considered to be a better option to cotton and it's a popular fabric that is used by many brands because it is less expensive and more durable alternative to silk. Similar to Tencel and Modal it’s created from cellulose/ wood pulp. It’s made from Beech trees and eucalyptus or any fast growing, regenerative trees. Viscose is widely recognised as a cheaper alternative to silk as well as being more durable. Viscose however, is considered a very polluting process. Viscose is manufactured cheaply using energy, water and chemically-intensive processes that have devastating impacts on workers, local communities and the environment.





The wood pulp that viscose is made from is manufactured by treating it with chemicals, which is then filtered and spun into a fine thread. Carbon disulphide, one of the chemicals used, is another toxic ingredient which has been linked to higher levels of health problems. Furthermore, dissolving-pulp wastes approximately 70% of the tree and is a chemically intensive manufacturing process. Moreover, 30% of rayon and viscose used in fashion is made from pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests.





Due to the growing fast fashion industry, a lot of the viscose that is available to purchase is produced using cheaper methods that do not require much water, energy or chemicals that have devastating impacts on the environment. Consequently, viscose was given ‘D’ and ‘E’ scores for sustainability in the Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres. Viscose is said to be the third most commonly used textile fibre in the world and more than 70 million trees from Indonesia, Canada, and Brazil are logged every year in order to made Viscose. The wood pulp that viscose is made from is treated with chemicals. This is a highly polluting process and releases many toxic chemicals.





Some of the best characteristics of Viscose are that it has a lightweight material which nicely drapes and a soft feel as well as being relatively inexpensive. It also blends well with other fibres like cotton and polyester. It is absorbent making it suitable for sportswear as well as being breathable and maintains its shape making it the best material for athletic wear. It is also lightweight making it suitable for dresses and women’s blouses. It also dyes well without fading.




  • Higher absorption: ​A viscose undershirt worn under a shirt will therefore absorb and trapsweat before it reaches the shirt​.

  • Cheap Production: ​The cheap production is a big reason why many fast fashion giants useViscose, as it is cheap and fast to obtain the fabric.

  • Drapes well: ​This fabric holds more drape to them and follow your body lines and contours well.

  • Dyes well: ​It holds colours better than most other fabrics. As a result, it is safer to use for dyeing and also easier to wash without the fear of bleeding hues to other clothes.





  • Pills easy: ​After a couple of wears and washes the material pills up and bobbles up. This could be because of the cheap production value and can reflect bad on a brand especially if they price the item expensive.

  • Pollution Production: ​Viscose is extremely bad for the environment and pollutes as it is chemically treated which releases toxic chemicals in the air, putting the environment and lives at risk.

  • Deforestation: ​Unlike Tencel, Viscose is not sustainably farmed and widely recognised as the Palm Oil of the fashion industry. Viscose is currently being manufactured from the world's most endangered forests.

Fashion’s Budding Relationship with Viscose

In the past viscose was viewed as the sustainable choice of material that could save the world. However, over the years, it has gradually contributed to further global deforestation as well as releasing more toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.


Viscose has had a supply chain problem for years ever since it was labelled as the sustainable material to use, however campaigners have recently identified the semi-synthetic as one of the reasons for major deforestation and polluting the environment.


Scientists have developed a brand new man-made cellulosic fibre, which includes viscose, have been outlined in a report by both Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future alongside big players in the fashion industry.


This brand new man-made cellulosic fibre catergory, which was once dominated by viscose and rayon now includes modal, cupro, lyocell and acetate; when used together they are the third most common fibre used all around the world. This new report will address all the environmental impacts that have been caused in the production process, as well as looking at the shift in how the world has started making stronger efforts to become more sustainable. Instead of solely focusing on the negative aspects, the report has a focus on how we can generate new positive impacts.


Currently the major concern is biodiversity, as well as deforestation. The human race has wiped out ecosystems, some even speculate that this could have been a cause of the Covid-19 pandemic, but scientists are warning us that we are only having a taste of the consequences caused by our actions.


The Canadian organisation Canopy has worked alongside Kering, Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher since 2013, to help shift the ways they source the viscose that they use as well as other materials that can be sourced from wood. The CanopyStyle campaign has made a significantly big dent in deforestation and ecoystems being destroyed for people to source viscose. Now there are similar campaigns beginning that are aimed at the chemical process that transforms wood pulp in fibre. However, campaigns like this are usually very isolated, and rarely have connections that connect or guide them to solve one problem, when new problems are constantly being created.


One thing that needs to be spoken about more when we are speaking about the harmful effects of viscose is the impact on local communities where you source viscose. Past research has uncovered that regions you get viscose, they are often poverty stricken, but when people have a path out of poverty, deforestation also declines. Eileen Fisher has worked directly with cotton and wool suppliers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions for workers whilst also supporting sustainable practices; however this does not apply to wood based materials. Tracking impacts on human life is more complex and different regions will harvest viscose differently.


With the information we now have, we are trying to create a circular economy within fashion. Business models right now might not be able to adapt to this as easy but if companies replace their price based paradigm with values that have ecological and social benefits, it could be a major success story in the journey to a sustainable industry.

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