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For a long time, this “natural” fabric has been associated with the logging of ancient forests and toxic pollution. However, certain players in the fashion industry are making efforts to alter this perception.
The charm of a black dress knows no bounds, especially when it gracefully falls to the mid-calf, its flowing skirt exuding elegance. With a slight side split, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of a leg in motion, adding an alluring touch. This sleeveless garment, featuring a dropped waist just above the hips, is cut on the bias, allowing it to drape flawlessly and accentuate the wearer’s figure. Its versatility is truly remarkable, as it seamlessly transitions from brogues and boots to sandals and heels, adapting effortlessly to any occasion.
This particular dress holds a special place in my heart, as it has accompanied me through significant moments in life. From nerve-wracking job interviews to dinners with new acquaintances in unfamiliar cities, it has been my steadfast companion, providing comfort and confidence in times of uncertainty. It has witnessed nights on distant beaches, where I freely ran into the water, leaving it behind momentarily, knowing I could easily shake off the sand later. Remarkably, it has graced the backstage of Burberry runway shows in London and accompanied me on press trips to Tokyo, Dubai, Marrakech, and Milan, always lending an air of sophistication to my presence.
Made from viscose, a fabric derived from natural materials, this dress carries a unique story. Viscose, also known as rayon, modal, lyocell, or bamboo, possesses a soft and silky texture that sets it apart from cotton or linen. Whether it feels denser or more fluid depends on the extraction and spinning process employed. It is worth noting that rayon encompasses textiles derived from cellulose, the fundamental building block of most plants. While it can be sourced from various natural materials, such as straw or cotton waste, rayon is primarily derived from wood pulp, including trees like pine, eucalyptus, or beech.
Unfortunately, the production of rayon raises concerns regarding its environmental impact. A significant portion of the 6.5 million metric tons of rayon produced each year originates from ancient and endangered forests, including the carbon-rich peatlands of Indonesia and Canada’s old-growth boreal forests. Moreover, rayon production has doubled in the past three decades, with the global viscose rayon market expected to reach a value of $28 billion by 2025. In 2019, rayon accounted for 6.4 percent of the global fiber market.
The carbon footprint of rayon and viscose is exacerbated by the chemical-intensive and highly toxic process involved in converting wood into textile fibers. Unlike naturally smooth and elastic fibers like cotton, wool, or silk, transforming a tree into fabric requires caustic soda treatment and the addition of carbon disulphide to dissolve the cellulose. This process yields a thick and viscous substance, which is then treated with sulfuric acid to create fine rayon filaments. These filaments undergo spinning, stretching, bleaching, and weaving to form the fabric. Unfortunately, throughout the twentieth century, there have been documented instances linking the manufacturing of viscose rayon to severe and often fatal illnesses.
When rayon was first introduced in the late nineteenth century, it was marketed as artificial silk due to its lustrous appearance, softness, and draping characteristics. Its production witnessed a significant boost during the First World War, as supplies of silk and cotton were disrupted.
As the fashion industry grapples with the environmental concerns surrounding viscose production, there is a growing recognition of the need for change. Efforts are being made to address issues such as deforestation, habitat destruction, and toxic manufacturing processes. Sustainable sourcing, increased transparency, and consumer demand for eco-friendly alternatives are driving forces in reshaping the future of viscose. The industry must continue to prioritize sustainability and innovation to ensure a more responsible and environmentally conscious approach to fashion.