Awe Spandex... That wonderful stretchy fabric that brought us great moments in fashion like this...
Oh and let’s not forget this...
Today 100% spandex items are harder to find, but spandex is popping up in everything from dress work pants to that slim fit button down shirt in your closet.
The appeal for blending spandex in everyday clothing is pretty obvious. It can add the perfect amount of stretch for a more comfortable fit in traditional work wear. But as I learned this week from volunteering at FABSCRAP, a non profit that sorts production waste from fashion brands and textile manufacturers, apparel that contains a blend of spandex can have a huge environmental impact. A shirt made from 99% cotton and 1% spandex will bypass the recycling bin and land straight in the trash. What’s worse is that once it’s in the landfill it won’t breakdown because it’s non-biodegradable.
The reason has to do with the fiber content. Natural fibers like cotton and wool are easier to recycle mechanically for post-consumer textiles. That means recycling facilities can shred cotton for insulation in cars, building materials, or mattress padding. On the other hand, synthetic fibers have to be chemically recycled. Synthetics are broken down back to their polymer chains, spun into a new filament fiber and then used to make more synthetic fabric. Currently technology to break down the synthetic fibers is still developing so only polyester and nylon are commercially recycled, not spandex.
When I design caps for kids, I think about the world they will live in when they grow up. Because Junior Baby Hatter values long-lasting craftsmanship, the full lifecycle of our products are considered from material sourcing to disposal. As a designer, making small changes like avoiding spandex or other non recyclable materials helps lighten the strain on the Earth's natural resources for future generations.
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