If you’ve come across the word ‘polyamide’ and felt it go in one ear and out the other, don’t worry! It may sound like a complicated word, but in truth it can be simple. This article will explain the question: What is a polyamide?
First, let’s define what a polymer is: A polymer is lots of molecules which have linked together (think of a string). One molecule is called a monomer (meaning one); when there’s more than one molecule linked together they are called a polymer (meaning many). Therefore, polyamide is a monomer linked to an amide bond, for example, a man-made compound like nylon. In this case, the string of molecules is linked together with nylon. In the same way, polyester is a monomer linked to a compound bond called ester. Polyamide fabrics tend to be categorised into two teams – artificial and natural – and have a huge variety of uses. In this guide, you’ll find out what is a polyamide, as well as where the popularity of polyamide fabrics started and what the future looks like.
Examples of Polyamide Fabrics
As we mentioned before, in chemistry there are both natural and synthetic polyamide materials. Natural examples are wool and silk, while the most popular artificial polyamide is nylon. In terms of industry, most people around the world see ‘polyamide’ as synonymous with nylon.
How Nylon Grew in Popularity
Originally, Nylon was created and marketed as a ‘stronger than steel’ fabric at the World’s Fair in 1939. It was created by Du Point Corporation as a longer lasting alternative to silk stockings. At first, the corporation planned to call the new material No Run as they believed the fabric was not susceptible to runs. When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the name quickly moved to nuron, nilon and lastly nylon.
After World War II, where Nylon – a strong and durable fabric – was used to make soldier’s parachutes, women began recycling the parachutes into stylish dresses. As a result, pure nylon apparel became the latest trend.
As we now know, pure nylon isn’t particularly perfect for women’s apparel. It has a low breathability, spoils easily and can even melt in high temperatures… not ideal for a sunny day.
But nylon still offered something that natural polyamides didn’t: Elasticity. Unlike wool and silk, nylon provided a silkiness that also had stretch. And so, textile makers began to mix nylon with other fabrics such as cotton, wool and polyester.
By the 70s, an environmental movement had a serious impact on nylon’s popularity. Originally made from crude oil, it became quite a taboo fabric and the Nylon industry dropped dramatically. For this reason, we at Contrado do not use nylon. Nowadays, polyamide fabric production makes up just 12% of the synthetics industry.
The benefits of nylon still don’t go unignored however. And despite the drop in popularity, it’s unlikely it will ever disappear. Nylon provides such a versatile range of uses – from swimsuits to sportswear and tights – and can be used in such thin sheets, it’s ideal for shaping and softness.
Outside of Fashion
Polyamide fabrics aren’t just used for apparel either – their uses outside of the fashion industry might surprise you.
Polyamides have found a home in the automotive, household and even the food packaging industry. When nylon was first produced, it was seen as a great, flexible plastic for everything from kitchen utensils, fishing nets, and even toothbrush bristles.
Nylon is generally inexpensive too, which is why it’s used so much in industries like automotive and household. In a similar way, nylon is still used in stockings as silk is typically quite expensive to produce.
Another type of polyamide that’s worth mentioning is aramids which are used for military, flame retardant apparel such as bullet-proof vests. Aramid polyamides include Nomex and Kevlar – both of which are still exclusively made by Du Point Corporation.
Within the environment
As with all synthetic materials, nylon isn’t ideal for sustainability. It is made from the world’s natural source of crude oil which makes it quite a concern for environmentalists. Nomex and Kevlar are still seen as essential, but the demand for nylon has been dwindling since the 70s. And it’s not just the oil that makes production so damaging; nylon uses a huge amount of cooling water which isn’t always disposed of in the correct way. Nylon’s aren’t bio-degradable either, which means the fight to create a more environmentally friendly way to produce it is on. Research and experiments are currently being done to try and use bacteria to synthesize a chemical which would remove the creation of nitrous oxide from the process. For these reasons, we do not use nylon at Contrado.
If you’re looking to create your own apparel or accessories that have a beautiful silkiness and elasticity, you can browse our fabric printing services for stretchy materials here. We typically use elastane or lycra mixes within our materials rather than nylon. Contrado can print beautifully bright and intricate designs onto a variety of materials for you to use at home. Alternatively, you can browse over 450 products on our site which we can create for you, all printed with your designs.
Why not order one of our fabric-swatch packs to have a feel of all of the fabrics we offer. Once you’ve chosen your favourite, we can print your designs onto it and deliver within a matter of days.