The growing trend for sustainable and plant-based fabrics has led to a more diverse selection of materials than ever before. Innovative producers are out to create the most desirable material with multiple benefits for the wearer. There are times, however, where the claims can all seem too good to be true.
An excellent example of this is SeaCell, a seaweed-based material with appealing promises about its environmental credentials, quality, and health benefits. So, what is SeaCell fiber? Should we believe all we hear about this fascinating new fabric, or could it be the future for sustainable clothing?
What is SeaCell seaweed fabric?
Simply put, SeaCell is a fiber created using naturally sourced seaweed. The company smartfiber AG is the primary producer of SeaCell. This alternative plant-based yarn is then spun with other fibers to create a fabric with many potential benefits.
When you purchase a garment with seaweed fabric, you need to check the product listings to see how much seaweed is included. The higher the percentage, the more promising the material.
There are still many questions over the true worth of seaweed fabrics as a healthier and more sustainable product. So, let’s look at how SeaCell is made, its impact on the environment, and those claims about health benefits.
How is the SeaCell seaweed fabric made?
The process of creating SeaCell isn’t that much different from other natural plant-based materials. It all comes down to creating usable fibers and spinning them into a yarn.
Manufacturers take a seaweed called Ascophyllum nodossum, or Knotted Wrack, from farms in the Icelandic Fjords. The plant is processed and mixed with cellulose to create a yarn.
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The process is the same as the one used to create lyocell or modal. The cellulose solution is dissolved in a solvent-spinning process where the spinnerets create filaments of yarn. That finished yarn can then go off to other companies for weaving into other materials.
Is SeaCell sustainable?
As this is a new form of naturally sourced fiber for material production, there will be questions about its environmental impact. We can’t assume that all-natural fabrics are better for the planet if we damage the environment when harvesting or manufacturing the product. The seaweed also has to be sustainable enough for repeated use.
Thankfully, the harvesting method for this Icelandic seaweed is relatively harmless and sustainable. Producers will only harvest a crop of the weed every four years, working periodically through sites, which gives the plant time to regrow and flourish and means a less invasive process for marine environments.
Also, those gathering the seaweed make sure only to cut it above the regenerative part of the plant to ensure that healthy regrowth. Responsible providers should also make sure to use special blades that won’t cause damage. It is a skilled and careful process where farms should provide quality weed repeatedly without intensive processes.
Often you will find that a sustainably-grown material loses green credentials due to chemical processing the energy or water used in processing. That isn’t the case here.
The seaweed undergoes a natural drying process before being chopped and added to the cellulose. There are chemical treatments because they don’t want to strip away health-giving nutrients. From there, the process is said to be pretty energy-efficient.
The cellulose is processed in a closed-loop system, which means that chemicals are not released into the environment, but instead reused.
Thanks to its ecological and sustainable harvesting together with the delicate process, SeaCell received the EU Ecolabel and meets the requirements according to OEKO-Tex Standard 100 certified for baby products.
Is SeaCell biodegradable?
The environmental benefits and biodegradability all depend on which type of SeaCell material you use. 100% plant-based fabrics with standard SeaCell fibers and no additional nanosilver are biodegradable. Smartfiber SeaCell is biodegradable and biologically compostable.
Are SeaCell fabrics vegan?
Vegan clothing is big business as consumers – whether strictly vegan or not – turn away from animal by-products where possible. Natural plant-based fabrics such as seaweed fabric will catch their eye. But, companies have to be sure that the rest of the fabric blend is also 100% plant-based and there are no animal products used in the manufacture.
Why is seaweed fabric meant to be healthy for us?
The idea of seaweed clothing having health properties is interesting for those that want to improve their wardrobe. We know that seaweed is something of a “superfood” because of its vitamin and mineral contents. But how does this relate to its use in clothing?
The idea here is that the careful drying and non-chemical processing of SeaCell allow the material to retain its nutrients. Therefore, iron, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin E, and plenty of antioxidants are locked inside the fibers.
Wearers should then gain the benefits as the seaweed makes contact with the skin, which is facilitated through moisture on the skin so that the nutrients are absorbed topically. In theory, this boost of Vitamin E should help nourish tired skin while the antioxidants fight free radicals and slow down the aging process.
How much should we expect from these vitamin-rich seaweed fabrics?
A lot of the claims about seaweed fabric do seem far-fetched. This talk of effective nutrient transfer is more appropriate for a seaweed wrap at a spa. There is the potential for some nutrients to leach out of the fabric through your sweat and into your skin, but it probably won’t be enough for any noticeable effects. There is also the fact that the potency of the fibers will diminish with time and machine washing.
Furthermore, there is the factor of the ratio of seaweed to cotton in your garment. If there is a 50/50 split, you might see some health benefits, but the balance could be a lot more one-sided in favor of cotton, such as 90% to 10%. Then, you have to consider how effective seaweed is in that 10% of SeaCell when so much of the material is cellulose.
Even if it turns out that the health-giving properties and fiber-to-skin transfer system are oversold, there are still benefits in using seaweed fabric. The blend of SeaCell and something like cotton creates a shirt or undergarment that is more lightweight and breathable, providing more long-term comfort, especially during hotter months.
The fibers are also more absorbent than cotton, allowing them to handle sweat much more effectively. Wearers also say that the material is softer against the skin
Are any clothing companies using SeaCell?
The properties of SeaCell as a comfortable natural material with environmental benefits make it highly sought after. So, it is no surprise to see companies including it in their collections. Options are still scarce because of the costs involved. But, there are companies adding seaweed fabrics to their shirts, underwear, and activewear.
Pangaia is a great example. This company combines high-quality seaweed fabric with GOTS certified organic cotton to create softer eco-friendly t-shirts. There is also 20% seaweed, so you know you are getting a good blend. An additional feature of interest is the use of peppermint oil for freshness.
It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see seaweed fabrics make their way into more clothing lines in the future. Companies just have to use a quality blend that showcases seaweed clothing benefits to their full potential. But, SeaCell has to become more accessible for that to happen. That means more sustainable seaweed farms for a more excellent supply and lower costs.
Is seaweed fabric the sustainable material of the future?
There are pros and cons to SeaCell right now. The lack of manufacturers and processes involved means that costs will remain high for a while. In turn, this could limit the percentage of SeaCell per garment, leading to a less suitable product.
The claims about health benefits such as vitamin transfer do sound a little far-fetched. Still, there is little doubt that the production methods and vegan materials created are better for the environment.
Also, there are seaweed clothing benefits for comfort and activewear. SeaCell, in its standard form, is still worth keeping an eye out for if you want high-quality, sustainable activewear.