Lycra/Elastane/Spandex: Behind the Material


Lycra is not a fabric, and it’s also not its real name - Lycra is a brand name, and the material is spandex or elastane, made from a polyester or nylon base of polyutherane.

It was developed by the US-based company Du Pont in the late 1950s as the demand for long-lasting fibres and fabrics was rising in the wake of WW2. It’s essentially an additive that gives knitted and woven textiles the quality of a lasting stretch and recovery. It was developed in 1959 and its first use was in the 1960s in ski wear, and men’s trousers, taking over in the 80s.

I suppose back then no one thought about the environmental costs of something that lasts forever!

Syra Brownlock doesn’t use any elastane, or any polymer-based products, at any stage of production. It’s a by-product of plastic production, since like polyester, it’s made of polymers, and for that reason it pollutes our land, destroys marine life, emits toxic fumes in landfill, and is not biodegradable. 

And on top of all that, all these brands belong to Invista, a subsidiary company of Koch Industries owned by Charles and David Koch, infamous climate change deniers. They’re also one of America’s top 30 environmental polluters. 

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its place - elastane is used in a lot of pieces, from activewear to underwear. It’s the reason bras last as long as they do, for example. I don’t make my own bras, for example. But I do repair whenever I need to, postpone buying new ones as long as possible, and recycle them through an NGO - does that count? 

While this means elastane fabric is good to constantly recycle and upcycle, and for that I do acknowledge its use, our commitment to the planet and a circular economy means we can’t in good conscience source anything with polymers in it.