Cupro: Textile Catch 22

Suzanne-Rae-Abigail-Doan

Cupro is a textile absolutely gorgeous in quality: It’s soft, static resistant, has a little bit of luster and feels like a heavy silk.  You can even wash it in your washing machine (but like anything hand washing is better).

At first glance it is considered an eco-textile because by definition it uses what would have been a waste product and transforms it into something usable and fabulous through little energy and emissions. So how does it magically transform?

Derived from the cotton plant, cupro comes from cotton linter. Some quick Plant Biology: the linter is basically what encapsulates the cotton seed. Think of a tomato, the gooey sunstance around your tomato seeds after you’ve cut it open. That is basically what the cotton linter is–it protects the seed. Only with cotton, it surrounded by short fibers and not gooey like a tomato. So once a cotton plant has been ginned, i.e., the cotton fibers taken off (think cotton ball) the seed remains and so does the linter.  This is what is processed to make curpo.  Depending on how the linter is processed (what chemicals it is soaked in) it can be used in gun powder, nail polish, paints, sausage casings and even x rays–and in our case, a textile called curpo.

Curpo gets it’s name because the chemical cocktail it’s processed with is called cuprammonium, a copper ammoniac oxide solution, basically copper and ammonia.

One source listed only two companies in the entire world are creating cupro, due to the high price of copper and ammonia. One company is in Japan, Asahi Kasei, and one in Italy.

So the lasting question is, what happens to the chemical solution after it’s been used? Well we don’t know for sure. We can derive that it doesn’t get throw out directly in our waterways–Italy and Japan both have high environmental regulations–but we do know it doesn’t just disappear so is eventually ending up somewhere.

Both copper and ammonia occur naturally and pretty abundantly, but too much is never a good thing. It can disrupt microorganism function and therefore take a long time to break down and return back to a natural nutrient cycle.

Curpo as a textile has a wonderful consistency and desirable wearable qualities.  Can we find a new less toxic way to produce this fiber? And present clearer definitions of how the waste products from curpo production are currently disposed of? Let’s hope so. And while we are at it, can disposal knowledge be standard for all industry?

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Curpo is the generic name, and Bemberg is the commercial name–same thing different names.

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This post is dedicated to Suzanne Rae + her amazing team.

photograph by Abigail Doan at Suzanne Rae NYFW FW13 presentation

3 Comments

  • Hi Juliette,
    I can tell that you want this fibre to be more “eco-friendly”, but the truth is that it is a “synthetic”, essentially a “rayon”, and it is a cheaper substitute for silk.
    I used it for many years as it is a wonderful lining for suiting and is commonly known as “Bemberg Rayon”, but “rayon” says it all. There is no escaping the production process, even when a “closed loop” process is used, where none of the harmful chemicals or waste product are released into waterways or landfill. It is only logical that toxic waste must occur, so what does happen to it?
    I know, for example, in India, due to government regulations banning the release of toxic chemical residue from textile production into the environment, that it is simply stored in warehouses. You can imagine how “safe” and supervised that would be!
    Best wishes,

    Philip

    • Juliette Donatelli says:

      Philip, you are absolutely right. Cupro or Bemberg Rayon is a synthetic because of the chemicals involved and it’s a shame too because I think it can have such a wonderful properties. But anything with a heavy load of toxins in the process is detrimental to our health and our environment. It is such a huge issue–and storing those toxins in a warehouse is certainly no solution!

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