Spandex / Lycra in Organic Clothing

Spandex – Elastane History

Spandex, also known as elastane, is a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity. It is stronger and more durable than rubber, its major non-synthetic competitor. It was invented in 1959 by DuPont chemist Joseph Shivers. When first introduced it revolutionized many areas of the clothing industry. It is one of the most used materials in lingerie.

“Spandex” is a generic name and not derived from the chemical name of the fiber, which most manufactured fibers are, but derived by shifting around the syllables in the word expands. “Spandex” is the preferred name in North America; elsewhere it is referred to as “elastane.”

Brand Names

The most famous brand name associated with spandex is Lycra®, a trademark of Invista (formerly part of DuPont). Such is the prominence of the Lycra® brand it has become a genericised trademark in many parts of the world, used to describe any kind of spandex. Invista discourages such use, protecting its trademark vigorously.

Other spandex trademarks include Elaspan (also Invista’s), Dorlastan (Asahi Kasei) and Linel (Fillattice).

Spandex Fiber Characteristics

Spandex is classified as an elastomeric fiber. An elastomer is a natural or synthetic polymer that, at room temperature, can be stretched and expanded to twice its original length. After removal of the tensile load it will immediately return to its original length. Along with spandex, rubber and anidex (no longer produced in the United States) are considered elastomeric fibers. Spun from a block copolymer, these fibers exploit the high crystallinity and hardness of polyurethane segments, yet remain “rubbery” due to alternating segments of polyethylene glycol.

This yields the following combination of materials properties:

  • can be stretched over 500% without breaking
  • able to be stretched repetitively and still recover original length
  • lightweight
  • abrasion resistant
  • poor strength, but stronger and more durable than rubber
  • soft, smooth, and supple
  • resistant to body oils, perspiration, lotions, and detergents
  • no static or pilling problem
  • very comfortable
  • easily dyed

Spandex is used in apparel and clothing articles where stretch is desired, generally for comfort and fit.

Spandex / Lycra® in Organic Clothing

Spandex, and the brand name Lycra®, is a polyurethane which is obviously a synthetic compound. There are many issues that need to be considered if ecological materials are to be introduced successfully to the market. The purist may ask, “if so much care has gone into the growing and processing of organic cotton then why adulterate it with a synthetic material made of polyurethane?”

Here’s one argument for the use of spandex. Most people do not want soggy fabric that doesn’t stretch and which is susceptible to wear and tear. In order to get organic clothing more mainstream and create the maximum benefits for people and the environment, eco friendly clothing needs to have the same sort of performance as conventional products. For certain types of clothes, that means some form of elastic fiber being woven into the fabric. Take a look at the labels on any of your favourite sportswear, tights, skirts, underwear, and even suits and you’ll see they all have some stretchy fiber in their makeup. It makes clothes fit better and is argued that it also makes the clothes more durable so they last longer. If they last longer, at least that is an offsetting benefit to the fact of a small percentage of synthetic compound.

The marketplace wants eco friendly fabrics. At the same time, they want fabrics that have the performance features to which they are accustomed. There may be a minority of purists who are willing to give up the benefits of stretch and comfort in fabrics that typically provide these features. On the other hand, the large percentage of the marketplace that wants eco friendly fabrics are willing to accept the state of today’s capabilities which includes having “mostly eco friendly” and accept a small percentage of synthetic spandex in combination with Organic fabrics.

The trouble is, the only yarns that can provide this kind of stretch with a long lasting durability are made from polyurethane. The entire organic clothing industry worldwide acknowledges this through the official Organic standards which say that it’s okay to call a fabric “organic” as long as it is at least 95% organic, which usually means organic cotton or organic wool.

Acceptance To Help Grow The Organic Market

So overall, and on balance, we have accepted having a small percentage of spandex (Lycra®) in a small percentage of our overall number of Organic products. It not only enhances their style and durability but the modern consumer likes the way it makes things fit. It may not be a perfect solution but if Organic clothing is going to be able to compete in a market it must stand up to its conventional cotton competitors and offer the same standards that the consumer has come to enjoy. If someone can find a stretchy yarn that can replace it, then we and the rest of the Organic clothing industry would be extremely pleased to hear it, and you would see another switch over time to that new method. It is bound to happen in the end, we just need the volumes to make it worth while for the manufacturers.

If you are one of the purists that do not wish to have spandex in your clothing, and we totally support you if you are, then please accept our apology for allowing a small percentage of spandex in the clothing that we offer in our store and simply ignore those clothes for your own use. They are all obviously and easily identified in the fabric content line of each item description.

Regardless of your position on this issue, we thank everyone for your understanding.

The Team Members at Yes It’s Organic

Acknowledgment – some text taken from:

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