Whether you are looking for a fabric for your swimwear line or next purchase it’s good to know what the options are.
Early, swimwear was made of wool or cotton but isn't quite as form-fitting as stretchier options, and it doesn't hold up well to chlorine. After evolving over time and are now mostly made from nylon or polyester blends, neoprene, Lycra, and a combination of other materials that are water-resistant and do not sustain much wear in it.
MAJOR FABRIC OPTIONS:
1. Nylon & Spandex Blends(Polyamide & Elastane)
Most of the swimsuits are made of nylon and a smaller percentage with spandex. A typical blend is around 80% nylon and 20% of the stretchy bit. That bit is called Lycra® if it’s by Invista but can also be called spandex (SP) or elastane (EA), depending on where in the world you are and if it’s branded or not. Same thing. The purpose of this 20% is to provide great elasticity for your bikinis and swimsuits.
Nylon can also go under other names, such as Polyamide (PA) which is essentially the same. Nylon is the group name of some particular Polyamides.
Even though Nylon is lightweight, it remains one of the strongest manufactured fibers and offers a smooth fit. The nylon absorbs lesser water (0.4% only ) than polyester and spandex helps to retain the shape better. Henceforth the swimming costumes are better with nylon and spandex than polyester.
2. Polyester & Spandex Blends
Polyester is soft yet very strong, and it is chlorine and UV resistant. Polyester blends also have the benefit of being able to absorb dye. This means that you can dye and print it with rich and crisp results.
These swimsuits are especially good for swimming in chemical treated water because they will last longer and they're color fast (colors that will not fade quickly).
As the swimwear industry further matures and evolves – trends come with it. This results in waves of new types of fabrics being tried and tested on swimwear.
A few years back there was a trend of brands working with neoprene. Recently, we see a large demand for textured fabrics – especially ribbed and velvet.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that exhibits good stability, remains flexible over varied temperatures and is great for insulation. The benefit of insulation is why it’s commonly used for scuba diving suits. The fabric is thicker and methods of stitching different than a ‘regular’ swimwear fabric.
Ribbed textures can be made out of a variety of knitted fabrics. You make a ribbed texture by alternating knit and purl stitches – this creates the ridges. The fabric will lie flat but also stretches more in one direction. The ribbed used for swimwear is frequently nylon, and can be made very compact and tight with less stretch. Different compositions give different looks.
Velvet fabrics are super soft. Hence the use in loungewear and robes. The fabric has cut, evenly distributed threads, and this is what gives it a pile and a distinctive velvet/fur-like feel. A good blend of this can work very well for swimwear, giving it a very luxurious look.
Other examples of fabric suitable for swimwear are mesh, corduroy and some even use cotton blends. However, when it comes to cotton blends you need to be wary of its durability. Harsh swim environments (sun, salt, sea, chlorine) can have tough effects on it.
Traditionally swimwear has used fabrics that are heavy on the environment. However, as consumer awareness and demand have evolved – fabric options have with them.
One of the best is ECONYL – it is regenerated nylon from pre and post-consumer products.
ECONYL publicizes its process in 4 steps:
- Rescue – Finding waste like fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic from landfills and oceans around the world.
- Regenerate – Regeneration and purification process. Recycled back to original purity, exactly like virgin, or new, nylon.
- 3. Remake – The nylon is processed into the swimwear yarn.
- Reimagine – The regenerated yarn is used in new swimwear products until they are no longer useful and can go back into step one: Rescue.
There are other examples of recycled swimwear fabrics, such as repreve, who make theirs from recycled plastic bottles. And some clothes are also made with nylon which is also comfortable for the body.
Do note that no fabric is better than another, but that the fabrics have different attributes making them more suitable for different uses.