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Ubiquitous polyester

My Take | April 24, 2023 | By: Janet Preus

I was recently looking for some clothing items made of cotton. That used to be easy. Everything was made out of cotton, or another natural fiber such as wool or silk. I’m giving my age away here, because I know this transition away from “natural” fibers has been ongoing for a long time. But flannel pants? Isn’t flannel cotton? 

Not necessarily. From the least expensive to the pricier brands, it was polyester all the way. Obviously, polyester has its advantages, since it can be made into just about anything, but I didn’t expect it to supplant my beloved cotton sweater, as well.

The wonder of polyester is its versatility—and at an affordable price. I’m referring specifically to the polyethylene terephthalate that is a petroleum derivative product. This polyester also lasts and lasts, and therein lies the problem: it lasts and lasts. It does not biodegrade; it just disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces until these micro-plastic bits disappear from view, but still present a deeply concerning environmental risk. 

The good news is that solutions are popping up with increasing frequency, from recycling and re-using, to bio-based alternative fiber. As a chronic label reader, I can attest to this. In my latest search, I found more of these new materials than I had in the past. This is hardly a scientific evaluation of the alternative fibers market, but it is an indication that new materials are being commercialized, and hangtags are touting their sustainability benefits, which shows that brands recognize that consumers increasingly pay attention to environmental issues, although I suspect not many scrutinize hangtags quite like I do. 

I’ve strayed into retail market territory here, and that’s not where this publication generally lives. However, the technology driving these new fiber and fabric markets certainly qualifies as advanced, and the success or failure of alternative materials is important market news. 

Our feature by Debra Cobb, an experienced writer in the textile industry, does a good job of grappling with the question of polyester’s future. We’re calling it, “The future of polyester as we know it.” I hope you’ll take the time to read it, and please feel free to tell us what you think, too. 

Janet Preus is senior editor of Textile Technology Source. She can be reached at

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