Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fancy New Fibers for Fashion? That May Be a Stretch

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fancy New Fibers for Fashion? That May Be a Stretch

Article excerpt

Some technologies speed along. Some crawl. And then there's clothing.

Wool and silk were first woven more than 5,000 years ago. Cotton got big when the Industrial Revolution mechanized its manufacture in the 18th century. The latest blockbuster - man-made polyesters - date roughly from World War II.

That's why the arrival of two new fibers - lyocell and elastoester - face a tough road as they try to weave their way into the fabric world. "It's enormously expensive to develop and market a new fiber," says Perry Grady, associate dean of the college of textiles at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. As fickle as the fashion world is, it's reluctant to try really new threads. The most successful of the new fibers is lyocell. You may have seen it in designer clothes, jeans, and golf shirts under the trade name "Tencel." Major clothing lines, such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, have used it for the soft, slinky feel it gives to clothes. Another advantage: It doesn't need to be dry-cleaned. Demand is so strong that its inventor and manufacturer, the British firm Courtaulds Fibers Inc., is doubling production to 200 million pounds a year and plans further expansion. Other competitors, with their own formulations, are moving into the business. Like rayon, lyocell is made from wood pulp. But it's twice as strong and, unlike rayon, doesn't lose much of its strength when wet and doesn't create the troublesome chemical byproducts. Having attracted the attention of the high-end clothing designers, Courtaulds is now branching into new markets, such as sheets and towels, industrial uses, and even a lyocell-wool blend that could create washable wool pants. In May, the US Federal Trade Commission recognized another fabric, elastoester, made by the Japanese conglomerate Teijing Ltd. It is similar to polyester, stretches like spandex, and can stand up to high heat when wet. …

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