Everything you need to know about Lycra

“Nothing moves like Lycra” was the brand tag line in the 1995 Lycra advertisements. Since its inception in 1958, Lycra has been the world leader in spandex fibers. In this article, we will look into the stories around this revolutionary fiber and understand it better.

Did war give birth to Lycra?

During world war 2, raw materials were rationed. Until then rubber was the main resource that was being used in the stretchy fabrics. But war times put pressure on companies because all rubber was used for making tires. This scarcity pushed scientists to find a replacement for rubber with a synthetic material.

Somewhere in the DuPont research facility, Dr. Joseph Shivers was working behind the closed doors on the same mission, to replace natural rubber. And in 1958, he invented “Fiber K” which was later named “Lycra”.

What is Lycra Fabric?

Lycra is a highly elastic synthetic fabric developed by DuPont. It is made from polyurethane which was invented in 1930s Nazi Germany. It was the alternative originally developed for replacing rubber. The scientists who worked on this material were imported to the DuPont factory in the United States. Both the American and German scientists collaborated on various other revolutionary materials at the DuPont facility.

“In 1968 winter games in France, the French team who wore Lycra for the first time in sports won the most medals in the season. This led to other teams adopting this material”

How it is made?

Lycra fabric is a polymer. It is composed of long chains of monomers that are connected with a special type of acid. The lycra fabric-making process includes eight steps. They are:

1. Production of polymer: Macroglycol is mixed with a diisocyanate monomer.

2. Chain extension reaction: The polymer is then reacted with diamine acid.

3. Diluting: Solution is diluted with a solvent to make it thinner and placed inside a fiber production cell.

4. Extrusion: Fibers are produced and cure elastane material. The solution is pushed through a spinneret.

5. Heating: Fibers are heated within a nitrogen and solvent gas solution, to form liquid polymer into solid strands.

6. Twisting: The exiting strands are then bundled together with a twisting compressed air device.

7. Finishing: Magnesium stearate or another polymer is used to treat the elastane material as a finishing agent.

8. Weaving: Final Lycra yarns are transferred to a large spool and it is shipped out to a textile manufacturing plant.

What are the properties of Lycra Fabric?

Lycra fabric is famous for its stretchability. It has the capability to come to its original form after stretching up to eight times the size. It is loved by people around the world because it provides good fit, motion, and freedom for motion.

- Extraordinary stretchability

- It is highly breathable

- High moisture wicking abilities

- Low heat retention

Where it is used?

Lycra fabrics are used widely in the fashion industry. It is mixed with major natural fibers like wool, cotton, and polyester. This blend makes it more stretchy and stronger.

Lycra fabrics are used in all items that require stretchability and shape fitting.

- Undergarments

- Waistbands

- Activewear

- Athleisure

- Sportswear

- Accessories

- Yoga wear

- Etc.

“In 1969 when Neil Armstrong famously took his first step on the surface of the moon, he was wearing a 21 layer suit that contained Lycra fabric. It holds the water tubes against his moon suit and prevents his skin from overheating”

Who makes Lycra?

Lycra is produced in more than 90 countries throughout the world. China is the largest producer of Lycra today. With the advancement of manufacturing in China, DuPont opened many facilities in China. Almost 75% of the production is taken place there.

It is projected that the production will continue to grow in the coming years.

Can we call it spandex? Or Elastane?

Spandex is an anagram of “expands”. This word is used mostly in the United States and elsewhere. Whereas Elastane is most commonly used in Europe.

Even though it has different names, it identifies only the same material.

Lycra is the trademarked name of DuPont. One can call Lycra if it is a certified product of DuPont. Otherwise, we can mention it as spandex or elastane.

Environmental impacts of Lycra Fabric

Lycra fabrics are not a friendly material to earth. The production of Lycra involves carcinogenic chemicals and isocyanates, which are found in polyurethane. This can cause respiratory issues in children.

Even though the research made at the Swedish DuPont facility making Lycra fabric is considered non-lethal and environment friendly, it is not the case elsewhere in the world.

Besides these issues, Lycra fabrics are non-biodegradable. With each wash, the elastane fibers break off and contaminate the water.

It is estimated that textile wastes are responsible for the growing formation of trash islands in our oceans. It may take more than thousands or even millions of years for all Lycra to biodegrade.

The GRS Certification (Global Recycled Standard), which is acquired by manufacturers like Dinesh Exports, indicates that they use only recycled materials to make spandex products. Thus not adding to the harm already existing in the world.

Write down your thoughts below in the comments. Let me know if I missed any properties of Lycra.

The House of Textiles