First invented in 1941 by British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson, polyester has had a relatively short, but interesting history as a fabric.
“A miracle fibre that can be worn for 68 days straight without ironing, and still look presentable!”
Dacron Advertisement as seen in Vogue 1970s
While this initial advertisement for polyester seems a bit corny and outdated, it does hold some truth. Upon closer inspection, this man-made fabric seems almost magical compared to its natural counterparts. Polyester fibers are thermoplastic, which means that polyester fabrics can be given permanent pleats, shapes, and patterns heated into them. Consequently, unlike cotton, polyester is strong, lightweight, and durable. Their thermoplastic property also contributes to the fabric’s resistance to wrinkling and inclination to dyeing.
Yet, the best aspect of polyester is arguably its low absorbency. With its durability and moisture-wicking properties, this fabric is a favorite of athletes. These benefits are no longer reserved for sportswear. Cool, breathable spring and summer clothing can be made with polyester. You might notice that these clothes don’t need as much time in the dryer!
As you’d might expect, polyester is used heavily in the fashion industry. An estimated 65% of fabrics are made with synthetic materials, 95% of which is estimated to be polyester. In fact, 98% of all future fiber growth is expected to be in synthetic fibers.
As with all fabrics, there are some downsides to this supposed miracle fiber. Because it is synthetic, it is not biodegradable. Many people have, however, taken the initiative to recycle their synthetic clothes. There are even polyester shirts made out of plastic bottles now! Despite this, polyester has had an unquestionable impact on the environment. However, the production of cotton is extremely taxing on a nation’s agricultural, water, and human resources. The production of wool is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. At the end of the day, it seems the problem lies not in the type of fabric, but the increasing demand for fabrics. A solution to this problem is reusing, recycling, and donating clothing rather than throwing them away.