Working with micromodal has been a dream of ours for years. Natural, and sustainable; modal is a soft jersey like fabric made from dissolved wood pulp. It is ideal for direct contact fibers (like underwear) because it is highly resistant to wear and has high moisture transfer properties.
For a quick little history snack, modal was developed in Japan in the 1950s as an experiment to create a cheaper replacement for silk. It belongs to the rayon family and is a successor of viscose. The original forms of rayon were expensive to produce, and many of them were flammable. With the development of viscose, the cost and safety concerns from rayon production were solved, but the process of making viscose is complicated, and creates a large amount of waste. The production of modal took this process steps further, because it is a simpler process that doesn't produce as much waste.
First off, how is it made?
The base material for modal is cellulose from hardwood trees like birch and oak. The original source (trees) is natural but the process of turning wood pulp into yarns is chemical. Because of this combination, modal fibers are called regenerated cellulosic fibers, or semi natural fibers.
These cellulose fibers are made in a closed loop production process by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning. Before drying, the wood chips are mixed with a solvent to produce a wet mixture. This mixture is then pushed through small holes to form threads, chemically treated, then the lengths of fiber are spun into yarn and woven into cloth.
One kilogram of pulp makes approximately one kilogram of modal (a yield that is 10 times higher than raw cotton).
What is the difference between modal and micromodal?
The difference between the two is dependent on the extent to which the cellulose is processed and the size of the fibers produced. Micromodal uses a finer fiber than modal. This means that the fibers can be woven together incredibly tightly - thus making micromodal even sleeker than modal. This is where the ultimate suppleness of modal stands out - it is considered a luxury textile and gives a high end feel with its lightness and softness. So you really can’t go wrong with a silky and lightweight set of undergarments!
High moisture absorption keeps the modal fiber fabric dry and it is a healthy clothing product with good air penetrability and permeability. Unlike many cotton products, with more washes the modal becomes softer. We like that.
Modal also has a smooth finish that doesn’t pill, it's colour fasted, and doesn’t shrink when washed. And it is given added strength when it's blended with other fibers like elastane and cotton.
Blended modal with elastane. Isn't elastane plastic?
Originally elastane is petroleum based but bio-based materials made from renewable resources are starting to hit the fashion scene. The race to get away from microplastics and tackle the climate crisis has pushed for a surge of material and textile technology. The elastane we are working with in some of our Botanika Collection undies is called ROCIA™. This means it is a fiber made from natural polymers, and therefore biodegradable. (Stay tuned for more on this later!)
Under some circumstances, modal can provide a more eco-friendly, sustainable clothing option than natural fabrics like conventional cotton, which consumes a lot of water during growth and production.
It's not perfect:
We also need to be transparent and state that like many textiles, the production of this material is energy and chemically intensive. Eco responsibility in fashion includes diversification in the composition of raw material sourcing. Working with a range of bio based artificial, natural and synthetic fibers will help create a more robust fashion industry.
But it’s a great start toward a cleaner textile industry and this is why we love it:
Modal and micromodal alike are made from regenerative plants making it a renewable fiber source, and unlike fully synthetic fibers, modal is biodegradable* (depending of course on the blend). Furthermore there are stunning properties like the ones we listed above - stretchability, softer after washes, breathable, silk smooth with a luxurious finish. Perfect for your next favourite undies.