Fabric series: All about Nylon

What is Nylon?

Nylon is a synthetic man-made fibre derived from petrochemicals, which is used extensively throughout the fashion industry. 

Its first use was for the production of toothbrushes in 1938 whilst the most popular commercial use began in the 1940s, as it became the fabric of choice for women's stockings. 

Nylon production increased from 3.74 million tonnes in 1990 to 5.4 million tonnes in 2018 with around 5% market share of the global fibre production market.

The simple maintenance, wearability and low cost of Nylon make it a fibre with a great likelihood of remaining in production and use.

Where does Nylon come from?

Nylon was invented by an organic chemist called Wallace Hume Carothers. Carothers was working at a DuPont company research location in the US and he was attempting to find a synthetic fibre that could replace silk

Virgin Nylon manufacturers are mainly based in China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, USA and West Europe. 

Recycled Nylon suppliers and innovators are located in USA, Spain, Italy, Israel, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Polyamides and Nylon’s varieties

Nylon is a generic name for several synthetic polyamides. Silk is a polyamide which can be found naturally whilst Nylon is man made in laboratories. 

🔺 Polyamides are synthetic fibres obtained by spinning polymers, resulting from the reaction of adipic acid on a chemical product derived from petroleum.

There are several types of Nylons. The assigned names to Nylon are numerical suffixes which indicate the quantity of carbons. 

Nylon 6 and 66 are two of the most popular types used in the plastic, automotive and textile industries due to their greater lightweight, strongness and durability. 

🔺 Nylon 6 is made from a single type of monomer, called caprolactam.

It has higher impact resistance and quick moisture absorption which makes it easy to dye.

🔺 Nylon 6,6 formulation consists of hexamethylene diamine, six carbon atoms and adipic acid. It is marked by sunlight resistance, excellent colour strength and abrasion resistance.

The difference in chemical structures make Nylon 6.6 better suited for industrial products while Nylon 6 is the chosen one by the apparel sector.

How is the Nylon fibre obtained?

The production of the fibre is made with a machine called a spinneret. The molten Nylon is pushed through tiny openings and as soon it is exposed to air, pieces are hardened into a filament.

🔺 During the drawing process, filaments are unraveled and winded into a spool, positioning the molecules in the filament in parallel lines. 

Once they cool down, filaments can be stretched. Thanks to the drawing process, the Nylon fiber is provided with elasticity and strength.

What is Nylon used for?

From toothbrush bristles to military vests, Nylon is a very useful fibre for many applications. The fabric began to replace silk soon after his invention as an ingredient in parachutes and vehicle tires. Particularly due to its costs. 

Items like strings for musical instruments, carpeting, bridal veils are commonly made of Nylon. The fibre is often used in manufacturing umbrellas and luggage. 

Women’s stockings and hosiery are made of Nylon. The fashion industry implies its use as a material for socks, swimwear, shorts, tracksuits, sportswear and windbreakers.

Ropes made of Nylon are the strongest ropes available and Nylon fishing nets are popular and they are famous for causing ocean plastic pollution.

What are the properties of Nylon as a textile?

Here there are some of the textile qualities.

  1. It is very strong and elastic;

  2. It does not require special  care because of its colour retention properties;

  3. As the fibres are non-absorbent and smooth, it dries quickly and retains its shape after laundering, ensuring longevity of the garment;

  4. It is a responsive fibre and resilient. It resists dirt well and it is relatively resistant to heat, UV rays and chemicals;

  5. High temperatures are able to melt Nylon. For this reason heat needs to be carefully settled when ironing and the item should be preferably turned into the opposite side. 

  6. With appropriate care, Nylon fabrics maintain their whiteness and do not require any bleaching. 

  7. Being chemical resistant, if the material should turn yellow or grey, a normal household bleach can be safely used.

Environmental Issues 

The environmental impacts of Nylon are significant and should be explored. 

  • Non-renewable resource. Nylon is made from petroleum which is a non-renewable resource and has significant negative environmental impacts during extraction.

  • Energy-intensive use. Nylon requires more energy to manufacture than polyester  and it is also three times more energy intensive than cotton to produce. 

  • Release of greenhouse gas. The production of Nylon results in the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has a significant contribution to global warming. 

  • Water pollution. Nylon is not suited to natural dyes and lowest impact chemical dyes. The process of colouring the fibre creates significant water pollution. With more Nylon being produced in countries with weaker environmental protections, thewarning is even higher when water insecurity increases in the developing world, where major amounts of raw material are extracted. 

  • Microplastic pollution. Being a plastic-based product, Nylon is not biodegradable. Nylon will persist in the environment indefinitely if not disposed properly. 

  • Aquatic environment. Due to microplastic pollution provoked by Nylon fishing nets and synthetic textile fibers that wear off during washing, microplastic pollution is increasing terribly in oceans. 

What about recycled Nylon?

According to Textile Exchange, polyamide is much more difficult to recycle than polyester. That means the market share of recycled polyamide is much lower than the one of recycled polyester (13 percent in 2018). 

Pre or post consumer waste are both opportunities for polyamide to be recycled through a process that can be mechanical or chemical.

  • Pre-consumer waste may be processing scraps. 

  • Post-consumer polyamide is made from materials such as discarded fishing nets, carpets, or other used textiles. 

By recycling polyamide, environmental issues can be greatly reduced. For example, to  decrease dependency on fossil based raw materials, it has been estimated that 70,000 barrels of oil are saved per 10,000 million tonnes of regenerated Nylon.

To find certified suppliers of recycled polyamide you can check out this list provided by the Textile Exchange Database.

Commitment for a better textile

Recycling clothes is undoubtedly a great help in decreasing the footprint of the fashion industry. For a designer, recycling Nylon means getting the same functionality as fabric and at the same time achieving sustainability goals, contributing to a good environmental outcome. 

Resulting from the research led by textile exchange, innovators producing recycled polyamide mostly use mechanical processes and pre-consumer waste resources. Other innovations include chemical recycling, the use of fishing nets from the oceans, recycling of post-consumer textiles and other feedstocks which are fair to the environment.

Some of the brands and retailers which are making commitments to replace virgin polyamide with recycled polyamide are the following.

  • Brooks Running, committed to use 100% recycled Nylon fibre by 2023. 

  • H&M is committed to use only 100% recycled or other sustainably sourced materials including recycled Nylon. 

  • Norrona has the goal that 75% of their Nylon should be recycled in 2020. 

  • Prada has published their goal of converting all Prada virgin Nylon into regenerated Nylon ECONYL® by the end of 2021. 

  • StellaMcCartney, same as Prada, has the goal to stop using virgin Nylon by 2021 and to replace it with ECONYL®.

  • Volcom is committed to increase their share of recycled Nylon to 20% by 2020. 

What can we do for a better planet?

The solution is to buy clothes or items made from recycled Nylon which helps the reduction of waste in landfills, barrels of oil, water pollution and the emission of greenhouse gas, all elements which are seriously threatening the well-being of our planet.

The persistent nature of Nylon means that it is infinitely recyclable. For this reason you should not trash your unwanted clothes as they can be involved in a circular economy system. Just donate them or give them a new life! Check out our website for more information.

Sources:

https://www.technofashion.it/Nylon-caratteristiche-e-manutenzione/

https://sciencing.com/Nylon-8618074.html

https://store.textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2019/11/Textile-Exchange_Preferred-Fiber-Material-Market-Report_2019.pdf

https://www.tortoiseandladygrey.com/2016/02/01/environmental-impacts-Nylon/

https://plastic.education/the-environmental-impact-of-Nylon-bags/

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