Back to Fabrics: VISCOSE / RAYON

Before my professional vintage seller days, I never thought about the textiles my clothes were made of. The cut, colours, texture and pattern were more important than the fabric itself. Now I always check the fabric first even when thrifting. I’ve been amazed at how much differences materials have in respect of their sustainability even as secondhand items. That is why I started this Fabric 101 series, where I take an in-depth look at the sustainability and features of different fabrics (plus some care tips). Now, I want to dive into the semi-synthetic world of viscose rayon!

Highly processed “silk” from wood

Viscose is the first commercially produced manmade fiber. It was first marketed as a substitute for silk. Viscose had (and still has) the look and feel of silk but with a cheaper price and with more durability.

Viscose, or more commonly rayon, is one of the most commonly used textile fiber in the world. It is a semi-synthetic or mandmade fiber, as it is chemically produced from cellulose (aka wood pulp) making the fabric biodegradable. However, biodegradability doesn’t equal sustainability. Viscose needs extensive processing, which makes its manufacturing highly energy intensive and pollutive. Toxic chemicals that are released in the air and waterways make not only the factory workers but also the residents near a factory susceptible for disease and cancer. 

What about secondhand viscose?

Even though buying clothes secondhand means that we can count out the effects of cultivation, production, manufacturing and most of the distribution of the item. We still have to think about the laundering, possible reuse and disposal of the item.

Clothes made of 100 % viscose are not the most practical and durable items to own. Even though viscose can be stronger than silk, it is still weaker than other fibers. Viscose is prone to stretch and get blemishes. It easily absorbs moisture and grease, which are hard or even impossible to get out.

Tips on buying preloved viscose:

Viscose is not a sustainable fabric, even though it is biodegradable. I would steer clear from buying it new.  

However, I would buy it secondhand. Here are some tips:

  • always look at the clothing tag even when thrifting (some viscose products are dry clean ONLY)
  • look for clothes that are viscose-blends (with other than polyester) → these fabrics usually are more durable and washable
  • If you are pondering between a polyester blouse and a viscose one, I would choose the viscose one any day.

Do you own a lot of viscose items? Have you had trouble caring for them?

Click here to learn more about: silk & linen

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