Material Guide: How Sustainable is Modal?

Modal fabric is a plant-based fiber that can be made from either wood pulp or cotton.

It’s softer than cotton, breathable, and durable.

It’s often cited as a sustainable fabric, for a few reasons. But, as is often the case, not everything is as it seems.

In this guide, we’ll cover what modal is, the benefits of creating or wearing modal fabric clothing, and look at how it stacks up in terms of sustainability.

What is modal fabric?

Modal fabric is bio-based fiber derived from beech trees. It has been used for over 70 years, but only recently made its way into the mainstream. It’s gaining popularity among sustainable fashion brands because it uses less water and energy in production compared to other fibers like cotton or polyester.

You’ll often find it in underwear, apparel, home textiles, and bedding.

One key benefit of modal is it’s moisture-absorbing properties. It’s 50% more hygroscopic per unit than cotton is, which makes it great for underwear and loungewear, because it keeps you cool when you’re hot and warm when you’re cold.

Environmental benefits of modal fabric

Because it’s made with cellulose from beech trees, modal comes without the harmful environmental impacts associated with traditional cotton production.

Beech trees can be re-grown, although naturally, there’s still a concern that trying to produce too much modal will result in deforestation.

When purchasing clothing made with modal, make sure that the forests the fibre comes from is PEFC or FSC Certified.

Environmental downsides of modal fabric

In reality, modal can also be unsustainable — it depends on how individual manufacturers source and produce their modal fabrics.

In some cases, it may be sourced from produces who waste much of the tree material (only using the essential cellulose) — which is a major downside.

We’d recommend looking at the supply chain carefully to ensure the modal in your clothes was sourced in an eco-friendly manner.

As well as that, part of the modal manufacturing process includes the use of carbon disulfide — a neurotoxin that gets introduced to the environment, and is known for being harmful towards workers working with the modal fabric.

The verdict on modal fabric

Modal can be created in relatively sustainable ways, but it’s by no means perfect.

There’s always a risk that modal production isn’t done in a forest-friendly way, and there are some harmful chemicals used during the production process.

When deciding whether or not to buy an item of clothing made from modal, be sure to verify that the brand is sourcing its fibers from a sustainable, eco-friendly supply chain.

If you’re wondering how modal compares to cotton, check out our guide.

The Ecothes Team
The Ecothes Team

Hi, we're the team behind Ecothes. We started this platform to help share the sustainable brands we discover, making products from clothing, to homeware, to sneakers.

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