Polyamide, polyester, elastane: these fibers undoubtedly figure in the composition of your favorite sportswear. Windproof, waterproof, climate-proof, reflective; it cannot be denied that synthetics offer major advantages when clothing has to be put the test by the most demanding sporting practices, or the most challenging weather. However, in our quest for a healthy body, or when seeking harmony with the outdoor world, isn’t it rather counterintuitive to turn to materials that are everything but natural?
The promise of performance
Since the 1940s, synthetic fibers have fought a fierce competition with their natural rivals to impose their qualities. Combining their lower costs with technical capacities developed in R&D to make them ultra-stretchy, quick-drying or extremely tough, the result saw natural fibers soon being cast to one side.
While certain sports do require qualities that are difficult to match with natural fibers, gentle sports can be quite tender towards natural compositions. Focusing on the heat-regulating qualities of linen and hemp, the strength of cotton or the natural elasticity of wool, with crepe weaves or knits favoring comfort and freedom of movement, and these alternatives can rise to the challenge.
Strength and repairability
A synthetic product has the advantage of its weaknesses, as it can last a lot longer than a natural material. It is this apparent defect that can be used to guarantee the lifespan of a product to a consumer, via physical and mechanical tests. Encouraging them to bring their favorite garments back for repair when they develop any defects or signs or weakness demonstrates the responsibility of the producer, ensuring that their products can really be used for a long time.
The new challenge for carmakers? To reformulate the compositions of synthetics, and move away from fossil resources to meet the carbon emissions reductions challenges. Polyester, polyamide and elastane are now available in recycled versions. Another possibility that is booming is bio-sourced synthetics. Here, renewable resources and plant by-products can transform corn starch, bagasse, or castor oil into synthetics. The new generation plastics also target biodegradability or composability, with materials developed to disintegrate under industrial treatment conditions.
Nevertheless, whatever their end-of-life solution, they still generate plastic microfibers, except for some niche products designed to not release any synthetic traces.
The problem is not as much the use of synthetics for a segment of high-performance products, rather it is the overriding use of synthetics in fashion, where they represent 68% of the fibers produced worldwide. And even when thinking about purely active sportwear, our consumption is still disproportionately focused on a steady stream of new products whereas