Take a look around the room, and you can easily spot 5 (definitely more) items made from polyester. A beloved fabric for fashion and textile mass-producers, polyester is one of the most common synthetic fabrics. It is everywhere, but what do you know about this material?
Let’s dive into the history, features, and usage of poly fabrics. We will also look into some of the polyblends.
What is Polyester?
If we have to describe it to you without sounding like your chemistry professor, it is plastic. It is a synthetic, human-made fabric formed by a chemical reaction between crude oil (petroleum) and alcohol. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material used to produce plastic bottles for soft drinks, forms the basis for all synthetic textiles. So yes, it is a form of plastic.
The chemical process that produces the final polyester is polymerization. Polyester can now be processed in a variety of ways thanks to textile industry advancements. When fused with natural fibers, manufacturers can now produce a variety of polyblends with unique properties.
Polyester history goes back to World War II, where it got utilized for parachutes. The initial research done by W.H. Carothers in 1926 on ethylene fabric came to a halt because of the breakthrough of nylon. Later, British scientists - J.T. Dickson, J.R. Whinfield, C.G. Ritchie, and W.K. Birtwhistle picked up the project, and by 1941 they were able to create commercial polyester.
Just like many popular fashion and textile trends trickled down from the military, polyester mass production began in 1951 by DuPont Corporation. It was then marketed as a miracle fabric for its wrinkle-free property but received mixed reactions. While some swear by the poly fabrics, many felt it to be tacky and of cheaper quality.
Then came the 70s when there was a hike in polyester fabric usage but unfortunately could not turn around its reputation. But over the years, it went through a massive transformation, and what evolved is the modern polyester utilized to make furnishing items, clothes, shoes, and much more.
A few characteristics of polyester are:
- It is wrinkle-free and stain resistant
- High durability and tensile strength
- Lightweight and have a silky sheen
- Currently, no microorganism can decompose the fabric, so it is considered to be bad for the environment.
- Water-resistant, quick-to-dry - makes for a suitable textile for outdoor activities (sports)
- Does not shrink or stretch
- Attracts static electricity
- Is not a breathable textile
After the perceived perception against polyester, it went ahead to revamp itself. In textile terms, polyblends usually refer to combining polyester with natural fabrics. Examples are poly-cots and terry cots.
Some of the popular polyblends used in the fashion industry are:
- Poly-crepe: Originally made from silk, crepe is a lightweight and luxurious fabric often used for skirts, blouses, or gowns. Since it was expensive, poly-crepe is a cheaper alternative that looks and feels almost the same.
- Poly-georgette: Another silk-derived material known for its billowy nature and net-like finish. It is preferred by designers to create dresses, gowns, sarees. Poly-georgette is a semi-sheer synthetic fabric that is inexpensive and has high durability.
- Poly-satin: This fabric is used for upholstery, curtains, and home decors. A common misconception about satin is that it is a fabric. When in fact it is a type of weave.
You can check them here: https://www.thehouseoftextiles.com/collections/plains
To Sum Up:
Polyester is a synthetic fabric derived from petroleum. Today polyblends are present in almost every industry, from fashion, fishing to furnishing. Since 100% polyester is tough to dye and work with, manufacturers blend it with other textiles that are durable, stretchable, and have the best of both worlds (natural and synthetic fabrics).
While it is widely popular, many environmentalists have called out companies for using polyester. It is one of the largest contributors to microplastics. To salvage the reputation, brands and manufacturers are finding an alternative solution. Currently, they are recycling PET and polyester waste to recreate the textile.