PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

Chlorofibre; vinyon

A graph showing the spectra for PVC.

Inventor: Waldo Semon (1898–1999), 1926 (Semon was the first to invent material uses for PVC)

Patented: 1913, Friedrich Klatte (1880–1934)

Commercially available from: 1928 IG Farbenindustrie, Germany

Trade names: Rhovyl; Fibravyl; Evilon; Thermovyl

Commonly used starting materials: petroleum; natural gas; chlorine

Principal characteristics: flame-resistant; waterproof; crease resistant; soft and comfortable with good insulation properties

Principal uses: protective clothing, for example for astronauts, fire fighters and the military; rain wear; sportswear; fashion, including as a substitute for leather; often used as a coating for other materials.

Environmental impact: made from and manufactured with non-renewable resources; unregulated production causes toxic emissions and water pollution; toxic additives such as cadmium and lead are widely used as stablilisers and phthalates as plasticisers; the safe disposal of PVC is an issue.

Care and signs of degradation: has the propensity to develop a sticky surface due to the migration of plasticisers from within the bulk of the material. This has historically caused problems such as the adhesion of dust and wrapping materials. PVC textiles and coated fabrics (Pleather) should be wrapped using silicon release paper to avoid adhesion and stored enclosed in either acid-free costume boxes or encased in calico slings/covers in a cool environment.

Recyclable? The high chlorine content and presence of hazardous additives in less regulated products make recycling very problematic

Biodegradable? No

Potential narratives:

  • substitute for leather, arguably protecting animals from harm, thus a vegan material
  • relative environmental impact throughout their life cycle of animal versus PVC products in fashion.

Documented garment exemplars:

  • St Michael’s label leatherette skirt of PVC with a nylon backing, lined with polyester - see 1990s

Styrene-butadiene rubber >