NYTimes on Lululemon's "Seaweed" Clothing: Lousy Chemistry, Lousy Journalism

Some suggest that the professional journalists in the Main Stream Media are responsible and carefully edited while bloggers have no principles, checks or balances, but if a short seller came to our editor with a tip, with the intention of driving down the price of a stock, he would either tell her to take a hike or look at her claim awfully carefully. The New York Times appears to have done neither in their "investigation" of Lululemon, which has been picked up around the world.

They took a Lululemon shirt purporting to have seaweed in it to labs, which found none. They say the fabric contains fiber from Seacell, and call it a "seaweed fiber." I googled it and found that what should come up first but a 2-1/2 year old TreeHugger post that says Seacell fabric "incorporates 5% seaweed content", the balance being "wood pulp fiber made by a unique Lyocell process."

"In the "Lyocell process“, which is named after the fibre itself, pure wood pulp is physically dissolved for the first time and directly returned to fibre form using a simple method. The auxiliary substance used for this can be removed from the fibre with ease due to its good water mixing capacity, it is environmentally-friendly, bio-degradable and can be recovered by more than 99.6%. "

It has been around for a number of years and "The European Union awarded this process the Environmental Award 2000 in the category "technology for sustainable developments". It is "an environmentally compatible and thus interesting alternative for the future. Moreover the Lyocell fibre is considered to be the cleanest cellulose fibre. More information on Lyocell here.

Lyocell is purported to feel different from cotton: "One associates optimum moisture and heat management with the Lyocell fibre, i.e. one does not perspire with covers of Lyocell and although one perceives a pleasant coolness, one does not freeze at the same time. The fibre breathes with the body, absorbs a lot of moisture very quickly and then releases this to the outside thus preserving the warmth level." which is pretty much what Lululemon says about its product.

Seacell is a variant on Lyocell: "a special fiber manufactured according to the Lyocell process using cellulose combined with seaweed. What’s amazing about this development is how the seaweed has been permanently incorporated into the fiber, locking the effects of the marine substances into the fiber for good."

Seacell suggests all kinds of wonderful properties for its fibre, and provides third party certification for it: "On the basis of the DE/016/0003 contract for label usage, SeaCell GmbH is entitled to use the ecological symbol of the European Union (Eco-label) for its SeaCell® pure product as evidence of its exceptional environmental friendliness.SeaCell® pure also meets the requirements of ÖKO-TEX Standard 100 and may therefore be sold as an ÖKO-TEX-certified fiber. ::Seacell

Now this TreeHugger is no chemist, and passes no judgement on whether SeaCell is as wonderful as it is supposed to be, but it does not surprise me that it is hard to find elements of seaweed in a fabric that is 24 % seacell, which is 95% wood pulp, where the stuff is all thrown into solvents, physically dissolved, and then reformed into a cellulose fiber.

Our resident expert says, "at the chemistry level, sampling a final product for proteins and minerals (which are almost certain to be water soluble) that had been subjected to a chemical hot water pulping process, assuming that they are viable indicators or the raw material origins, is pretty dumb as far as lab method selection goes."

Lululemon buys a product that has been sold in Europe for years, and is third party certified to contain 5% seaweed. The Times should have looked at the fiber manufacturer's spec sheet and bothered to note these facts instead of just "looking for seaweed" and implying that Lululemon is trying to pull a fast one- there is a chain of trademarks and certifications right back to the source. The short seller may be very happy today, but Times readers should not be. ::New York Times

Tags: Clothing