Coming Soon to Mainstream Fashion: Wood-Fiber Clothing

The world is embracing wood as one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. Soon, we’ll even start seeing wood-based clothing on the racks at mainstream retailers like H&M. Suzano SA, the world’s largest wood pulp maker, is collaborating with Finnish startup Spinnova to build a commercial-scale facility producing a new wood fiber that could compete with cotton. H&M joins Chanel and other fashion brands to participate in the development of the material in exchange for the honor of being among the first to offer it to consumers.

Suzano, based in Brazil, is primarily known for providing wood pulp used to make paper cups and tissues to companies across the globe, and currently has a team of nearly 100 scientists researching new applications that could replace environmentally harmful products like plastics. 

“It is not a niche market for us,” Vinicius Nonino, Suzano’s new business director, said in an interview. “We want to be a relevant player. We will compete with cotton with sustainability advantages and also with price.”

Business of Fashion notes that the pulp provided by Suzano to create this new wood fiber has one major difference from an existing wood pulp textile fiber known as viscose: it’s processed without chemicals. To make viscose, cellulose is treated with caustic soda and carbon disulfide, then dumped into a chemical bath of sulfuric acid. This is an energy-, water- and chemically-intensive process that’s also highly polluting. The new Spinnova material will be mechanically processed instead using a technology that’s been in development for 15 years.

“As well as bridging the cellulose gap, the Spinnova fibre also helps fight climate change,” says Spinnova. “Created with minimal water and emissions, it offers a solution to other huge megatrends challenging our planet and worsening the climate crisis; fresh water shortage and CO2 emissions.”