What is Cupro Fabric: Uses & Sustainability

Growing concerns about the fast fashion industry have led to an increase in the development of alternative fabrics that are more eco-friendly than traditional fabric.  Scientists and fashion houses are experimenting with new and unique ways of production and diversifying the raw materials they use to try and minimize the adverse impact the industry can have on the environment. From deadstock and fabric made from mushroom to plant-based vegan leather - the possibilities seem endless. One such fabric is Cuprammonium rayon colloquially known as Cupro, Cupra, or Bemberg.

What is Cupro Fabric?

Cupro or Cuprammonium rayon is a regenerated cellulose fabric that has been around since the 1890s when it was first patented in Germany. It is made from cotton linter (the fluffy fiber that surrounds the seeds of the plant) by dissolving the linter fibers in a viscous solution of copper oxide called cuprammonium. This also gives it its name! This final product can then be spun into new fibers or woven into a smooth fabric. Johann Urban, an engineer, and Dr. Max Fremery were granted a patent in 1897 for their method for making thread from cellulose solution that had been dissolved in copper oxide ammonia. This was the beginning of artificial silk in Germany.

On the contrary, linter fibers can't be spun and are usually thrown away in cotton production, and cupro fabric uses this waste as a raw material in its production. The final product is part of the same fabric family as Tencel, Modal, Lyocell, and rayon because of its cellulose origin. Cuprammonium rayon is usually made in fine filaments that are used in lightweight summer dresses and blouses, sometimes in combination with cotton to make textured fabrics with uneven surfaces

In popular culture, Cupro is known as vegan silk because of its silk-like texture and because it does not contain any animal byproducts. Its distinct skin-friendly properties make it hypoallergenic, antistatic, stretch-resistant, and extremely durable. This quick-drying fabric combines the softness and practicality of synthetic fibers while minimizing the environmental impact.

What is Cupro Fabric User For?

When properly cared for, Cupro is a durable fabric that can last for a long period of time. Because of its silk-like texture, Cupro is most commonly used to make formal dresses and sheer blouses. While almost always exclusively used in apparel, Cupro can also be used to make scarves that resemble silk scarves.

It is often mixed with other fabric which can then increase its applications to other pieces of clothing such as t-shirts and lingerie.

Is Cupro Fabric Sustainable?

On a positive note, Cupro fabric can be made by recycling your old cotton t-shirts. Although marketed as a recycled or upcycled fabric, the production of cupro involves high amounts of copper, ammonia, and caustic soda. All three can be toxic if they're not properly disposed of. On top of that, strengthening and hardening the cloth requires them (and the environment) to be exposed to even more toxic chemicals.

While almost exclusively marketed as a cruelty-free and eco-friendly fabric, Cupro fabric seems to do far more harm than good. Manufacturers of cupro and other similar fabrics are not seeking out solutions to environmental problems, but are simply trying to make money from waste products. Copper, ammonia, and caustic soda are all low-cost materials that are used in the cupro manufacturing process. Little attention is paid to the safety of laborers when mixing cellulose with ammonia or copper to make wearable fabric. The same disregard is paid to the proper disposal of these toxic substances.

On top of that, China's synthetic textile factories have been criticized around the globe as places for modern-day slave labor. Cupro, as a product of these factories, certainly doesn't contribute to our shared environmental custodianship.

All in all, there is no guarantee that the cupro fabric that you are wearing is in any way good for the environment. Greenwashing is a very real problem in the fashion industry, and while upcycling and recycling cotton to make cupro can seem like a pro for using it in fabric, the environmental and human rights concerns far outweigh the positives.