Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Continuing our itinerary among the dozens of choices of raw materials available in the fashion industry, in this article we will analyze the synthetic raw materials, the reasons why brands love them but also the negative impact they have on the environment and man.

The synthetic raw materials are produced entirely by man but there are also some synthetic fibers which utilize natural raw materials that, after special treatments, produce synthetic fibers.

Its common knowledge that synthetic fibers release microplastics during washing, which end up in the oceans, thus having severely negative impact on the health of the ecosystems, humans and animals.


With similar traits to those of natural wool, acrylic has won over fashion brands and consumers alike as it is light, very soft, quite cheap and machine-washable, unlike natural wool. There are some variations of acrylic cashmere which are just as good or much better than natural cashmere in terms of appearance and texture.

On the downside, acrylic comes from petroleum and, as a type of plastic, it releases microplastics during washing, it is not recyclable and its production requires toxic chemicals and consumes a great volume of natural resources, such as water and energy. Top that with the extensive use of a natural resource such as petroleum, and it makes it particularly harmful to the environment. In terms of use, acrylic is not very breathable like most natural fibers, while it is particularly prone to pilling (it forms bundles or small balls on the surface of the fabric when rubbed on a surface).

Nylon or polyamide

Another type of synthetic fiber that has overwhelmed not only the fashion industry but other industries that produce everyday items too, such as toothbrushes, carpets, tights, and many more. Like acrylic, nylon is a type of plastic that requires large amounts of energy and toxic chemicals during production and is neither recyclable nor biodegradable.

As a final product, however, nylon (polyamide) is widely used as it is one of the most common raw materials, it is cheap, waterproof, flexible, durable and machine-washable. It also easy  and quick to dye. Its only backdrop is that it is not resistant to high temperatures so it must be washed and dried at low temperatures.


Perhaps the king of all synthetic fibers nowadays, polyester is by far the most popular material in the fashion industry as it is very cheap and durable. Its most widespread type is PET and it produces durable fabrics easy to dye that retain color over time, do not wrinkle easily and are hydrophobic, thus they dry quickly.

As another synthetic product made of plastic, it releases microplastics during washing, it is not biodegradable, it requires lots of chemicals and energy to produce, and does not breathe. While it is recyclable, unlike other types of man-made fibers, its quality deteriorates when recycled.

Elastane or Lycra or Spandex

It is used by itself or in combination with other synthetic or natural fibers due to its elasticity and its ability to fit perfectly. It is usually used to create sportswear and swimwear as it is very elastic (stretches up to 600% and springs back without losing integrity) and it isolates moisture. The clothing that are made with elastane have a great fit.

For its production, however, a lot of energy and particularly toxic chemicals are required stage while it also releases microplastics during washing.

Rayon, Viscose & Modal

Rayon is a little different from all aforementioned types of synthetic fibers as its raw material, cellulose, is natural coming from wood pulp. The production process of Rayon, however, requires a lot of water, energy and toxic chemicals and, on top of that, there are legitimate concerns over the deforestation that takes place for its extraction.

The most common forms of rayon are viscose and Modal. Viscose is a light, cool fabric that does not absorb moisture and sweat, retains its color even after several washes, breathes and is one of the best alternatives to silk, especially if it is of good quality. On the downside, when washed it is quite possible that its delicate fibers break apart causing wear and tear to the fabric, it shrinks with every wash while it is quite difficult to remove stains from the fabric. It is also susceptible to mildew and its quality deteriorates when it comes to contact with bright sunlight.

The modal has similar characteristics to viscose, both positive and negative, but it is much lighter than viscose. In general, however, it is a breathable and flexible fabric, it blends perfectly with other fabrics, such as cotton or elastane, it is quite good in moisture absorption, it is soft and smooth and it dyes quite easily. On the other hand, it is prone to allergies, it is not very durable, it does not maintain body temperature, so it is not ideal for winter clothing, it wrinkles easily and is much more expensive than other similar materials.