See also Polyurethane 

Spandex (USA)

Inventor:  Joseph Shivers (1920–2014), DuPont

Invented: 1958  

Commercially available from: 1959 DuPont, USA; US Rubber Co., USA

Trade names: Spandex; Lycra; Spanzelle; Dorlastan; Vyrene; Blue C; Elura

Commonly used starting materials: petroleum; natural gas

Principal characteristics: contains at least 85% polyurethane organised in rigid and flexible segments; excellent stretch and recovery which enables good shape retention, the higher the percentage of elastane in a garment the closer and firmer the fit; high breathability, moderate heat retention

Principal uses: stretchy, form fitting clothing: sportwear, close fitting jeans, leggings, tights and socks, foundation garments and underwear. Today small percentages are found in many materials and garments from knitwear to dress fabric.

Environmental impact: made from non-renewable resources in a chemical heavy process. Sheds micro-plastics. Its environmental impact is compounded by the amount produced each year and the fact that it is not biodegradable.

Lycra® is currently developing a range of more sustainable fabrics incorporating varying types and percentages of recycled materials. These fabrics include Lycra®EcoMade fibre which is manufactured from 20% factory waste blended with virgin polymer, Lycra®T400®EcoMade fibre, which is made from 50% recycled PET and 18% plant content blended with virgin polymer, and Lycra® Xtra life™. For Lycra® Xtra life™, please see section 4, object no. 41

Care and signs of degradation: can stiffen and become misshapen, so supported handling and careful mounting for display is particularly important, with attention to minimising flex at seams, areas weighted with metal zips, beads and suchlike. Further degradation of particularly “valuable” garments made of Lycra can be prevented by using oxygen-free storage. This, however, reduces access, increases storage space requirements and has to be repeated.

Recyclable?  Difficult to recycle, but recycling of Spandex is undertaken by Spanflex, Taiwan.

Biodegradable?  No

Potential narratives:

  • impact on fashion.
  • sculpting of the human body and ensuing impact on sport.
  • how one brand is responding to the demand for more sustainable products.

Documented garment exemplars:

  • Playtex Living Bra of knitted polyester, nylon, elastane and woven cotton - see 1960s
  • Helen Storey Shirt of woven Tencel™ Lyocell - see 1990s
  • Debenham’s Casual Club swimming costume of polyester and elastane with nylon gusset - see 2000s
  • Aitor Throup X Umbro Archive Research Project Ramsey Jacket of cotton, nylon and elastane - see 2010s
  • Protective undershirt of modal, aramid, elastane and carbon fibre - see 2010s
  • RubyMoon Rash Guard top of Econyl® nylon and Lycra® Xtra Life™ elastane - see 2010s
  • Vollebak Graphene Jacket, one side of graphene coated polyurethane, the other of a nylon and elastane blend - see 2010s

Lyocell >