The Best T-Shirt Material: Lyocell vs. Cotton and Polyester

Paulina Kulczycki

Do you check the labels of your t-shirts when you go shopping to see what material they are made of? You will surely do so after reading this article! The material your t-shirt is made of has a significant effect on how sustainable, breathable and durable the product is. But in order to be able to assess which is the best t-shirt material, you first need to know what the attributes of those materials are. Sure, cotton and polyester probably ring a bell. But what about lyocell? Here’s some background information on these materials to begin with.


Let’s start with the black sheep among t-shirt materials: polyester. Polyester is an artificially produced synthetic fibre, obtained through a chemical process. That alone doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it? But it gets worse. The production of polyester usually combines petroleum, coal, air and water. In other words, polyester is wearable plastic that uses valuable resources in a way that is harmful to the environment. While polyester was celebrated as a miracle fibre during the industrial plastic revolution in the middle of the last century, the material is controversial and widely maligned today.

And although the fibre has one or two advantages (e.g. functionality, easy maintenance, low cost, etc.), the disadvantages for the environment cannot be ignored anymore. Not only is the production is environmentally harmful but also the care of the product itself. Indeed, polyester loses microfibres when washed, releasing microplastics into the groundwater and oceans. Besides, polyester isn’t the best in terms of quality either. The synthetic fibre is not breathable. It quickly causes sweating and unpleasant odours. And as t-shirts are mainly worn in summer at high temperatures, you can imagine why polyester isn’t ideal for hotter conditions.

Last but not least, synthetic fibres like polyester can irritate the skin and even cause allergies! So let’s just say it’s better to stay away from products made of polyester, because life in plastic is anything but fantastic.


From the controversial and omnipresent synthetic fabric, let’s jump to a more ‘natural’ material: cotton. Although cotton seems more natural and sustainable at first glance, you have to be cautious about cotton too. Not all cotton is grown the same! There are numerous differences in quality among the different types of cotton, which are mainly determined by the length of the fibres. The rule of thumb is the following: the longer the fibre, the better the quality. Incidentally, the fibre lengths of cotton are called “staples”. So-called “long staple” cotton or “extra long staple” (ELS) cotton, such as PIMA, SUPIMA and some Egyptian cottons, are therefore considered to be the best quality cottons.

There are not only major differences in the quality of cotton, but also in its cultivation, production and thus in its environmental impact. Since cotton is prone to parasites and diseases, no other agricultural product uses as many pesticides as this natural fibre. To add to that, the cultivation of cotton requires huge amounts of valuable fresh water. This makes cotton another environmentally controversial material. Not to mention the working conditions that prevail on cotton plantations. Did you know, for example, that 99% of cotton farmers live in developing countries and produce about 75% of the world’s cotton crop? Forced labour and child labour are unfortunately not so uncommon. Lastly, workers on cotton plantations are paid very poor wages and often suffer from diseases due to the pesticides used.

It is therefore very important to look for fair trade and certified organic cotton products – preferably from slow fashion brands instead of fast fashion corporations. If these criteria are met, cotton is an excellent, natural material. Maybe even the best t-shirt material. After all, the breathable fabric is soft and comfortable and does not irritate the skin. Cotton is a renewable resource and biodegradable – if a product is made of pure cotton, it is easily recyclable!

That’s why The Perfect T-Shirt by SANVT is handmade from 100% finest ELS premium cotton, grown in the USA. The material is then fairly manufactured into sustainable and high quality t-shirts in Portuguese family businesses. But what about lyocell vs. cotton – which one is better?

The Perfect T-Shirt by SANVT is made of 100% premium cotton (ELS). Worn by Daniel Reith @daniel.reith


That brings us to the material that probably raises the most questions: lyocell. Lyocell is a fairly new, natural and sustainable cellulose fibre – a real material innovation! The biodegradable cellulose fibre is made from beech wood, which is generated from sustainable forestry. In an innovative process, the wood cellulose becomes an elegant textile fibre, which – compared to conventional materials – is much more sustainable and can be produced in a resource-saving way. The production of lyocell is non-toxic, energy-efficient and produces few harmful by-products. The characteristics of lyocell are a super light and smooth feel, opaqueness, extremely high breathability, elasticity and durability.

A t-shirt made of this natural cellulose fibre is therefore particularly resilient and airy, making lyocell perhaps even the best t-shirt material – at least in summer, on very hot days. There are other qualities too: the material wicks moisture away from the body more effectively and therefore prevents a damp feeling after sweating. When it comes to the aesthetic of lyocell vs. cotton, it’s hard to decide which one is best but some people prefer the more natural look of cotton vs. lyocell, which has a slight sheen. That’s why we at SANVT have created The Lightweight T-Shirt, which is made from a fine blend of premium cotton and the biodegradable cellulose fibre.
Here you can read more about lyocell vs. cotton and why both are the best t-shirt materials.

Our Summer T-Shirt consists of a mix of lyocell and premium cotton. Worn by Anastasios Moiras @anastasiosmoiras

Lyocell vs. cotton & polyester

What makes the best t-shirt material will of course depend on your own preferences. But when it comes to sustainability and quality, you can’t go wrong with fair trade ELS cotton and lyocell. They are both natural, durable, soft and biodegradable. And the combination of the two materials looks great. So in the future, look for these materials when checking t-shirt labels and know that those t-shirts will serve you for a long time and protect the environment in the meantime!