Synthetic Fibres Part #2

Here are some common synthetic materials and their uses in clothing.


Pros: Lightweight, durable, wrinkle and shrink resistant, abrasion resistant, quick drying.

Cons: Heat sensitive, susceptible to static and pilling, stretches when humid or wet, stains easily.

Uses: Shirts, pants, jackets; also used for fishing gear, carpets, food packaging and more.

Environmental impact: Manufacturing nylon generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s more potent than carbon dioxide.

Disposal or recycling: Despite being recyclable, most discarded nylon ends up in the waste stream and since it’s not biodegradable, it will persist in the environment. A small number of companies now recycle waste nylon by spinning repurposed nylon thread used for such consumer products as clothing, carpeting, sunglasses and furniture.  

Fast fact: First used commercially for the bristles in toothbrushes in 1938, nylon became famous after being shown as women’s stockings at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.


Napped Polyester and PET Textiles (polar fleece)

Pros: Lightweight, breathable, fuzzy/napped surface retains heat, hydrophobic, non-itchy (unlike wool), can be produced in almost any colour.

Cons: Pilling, prone to odours, resists detergent, can melt at a relatively low temperature (such as close to a campfire), high amount of static electricity.

Uses: Insulating mid-layer for outdoor sports clothing.

Environmental impact: Like other garments made of synthetic fibres, fleece becomes a pollutant when washed and microfibers are release into waterways.

Disposal or recycling: Fabrics are generally not accepted by municipal recycling facilities, but some companies have started taking back fleece garments at the end of their life for recycling or repurposing.

Fast fact: In 1993, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia became the first company to manufacture a polyester fleece jacket out of plastic bottles. The practice has since expanded to include base layers, shell jackets and more.



Pros: Stain resistant, keeps its shape, wrinkle free, inexpensive.

Cons: Difficult to dye, highly shrinkable, not as soft as cotton.

Uses: Shirts, pants, jackets, socks.

Environmental impact: Energy intensive production that uses acids and alcohol that are harmful if released into the environment, and high amount sof greenhouse gas emissions are released when its manufactured. Uses large volumes of water during production, as well as lubricants that can cause environmental harm if accidentally released into nature. Washing also causes the shedding of microplastics.  

Disposal or recycling: Can be recycled, but is not biodegradable so remains in landfills after disposal.

Fast fact: Almost 70 million barrels of oil are required annually to meet the global demand for polyester fibre. 


Spandex/elastane (polyurethane)

Pros: Elastic, durable, lightweight, recovers its shape after being stretched during use.

Cons: Elasticity wears off over time, sensitive to heat, non-breathable.

Uses: Sportswear, compression garments, swimwear, underwear.

Environmental impact: Fabric blends containing spandex are difficult to recycle, so they end up in the waste stream. The material is not biodegradable and microfibres released during the wash cycle end up in waterways.

Disposal or recycling: Not accepted for recycling.

Fast fact: Spandex is a generic term, not a trademark (such as Lycra or Dacron). Coined in 1959, it’s an anagram of the word “expands.” In Europe, spandex is referred to as elastane.