Stretch is still a major selling point for jeans, even if skinny jeans’ prevalence has waned. “Almost all jeans—even looser fitting ones—have some form of a comfort stretch to them,” said Claire O’Neill, European marketing manager for textiles at synthetic fiber manufacturer Hyosung. “As an industry leader in spandex, we just want to make sure we’re supplying the right types of spandex fibers.”
For Hyosung, this means creating spandex that performs while also being better for the environment. As the carbon footprint and lasting landfill impact of jeans have come to the fore, spandex and its fellow synthetic polyester have become focuses for improving denim’s overall sustainability profile. Although synthetics usually only represent a small portion of the total denim material, the choices of fibers must be considered to create a better jean.
Sustainability is not a singular concept. Depending on a brand’s priorities for a particular product, it might favor circularity, biodegradability or natural material sourcing. Hyosung has a portfolio of sustainable yarns that help denim manufacturers and brands weave a cohesive story.
With Hyosung’s 100 percent recycled creora® regen spandex made from reclaimed waste, denim brands and retailers can now offer a completely recycled product to consumers. As the manufacture of creora® regen spandex prevents the extraction of earth’s valuable resources, the yarn’s carbon footprint is two-thirds lower than conventional spandex, offering a significant savings.
Another development from Hyosung is creora® bio-based, which swaps petroleum-based oils for chemicals derived from corn. Not only does this prevent the extraction of fossil fuels, but the corn crops pull carbon dioxide from the air while they grow for added eco impact. This material can pair with a natural product story, such as organic cotton jeans or cotton-hemp blends.
Lastly, Hyosung is working on spandex with biodegradable properties. The cellulosic material in jeans—whether made of cotton, hemp, wood-based fibers or other alternatives—will quickly biodegrade. However, what remains after decomposition is the synthetic stretch material. By speeding this process along for synthetics, Hyosung’s biodegradable fibers can help lessen the impact of textile waste sitting in landfills.
“Having a biodegradable spandex is a unique opportunity because of the challenges of separating fibers in a blend,” said O’Neill. “Spandex is always a minority component in a garment, so how do I separate the spandex from the other fibers? If you go with biodegradability, it takes care of itself.”
Closing the loop
Circularity has become a common goal for the denim industry as more brands leverage recycled materials and design jeans with reuse in mind. But achieving the stretch performance that consumers expect while making recycle-ready jeans is a challenge. Usually, to help jeans recover—or maintain their shape and retract after being stretched—material blends include up to 12 percent of a stretch polyester in addition to spandex. This combination exceeds the 2 percent maximum synthetic content that is stipulated for participants in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign project, which aims to create more recycle-ready denim.
Creora® 3D Max offers the same stretch and recovery of this spandex-polyester combination without the need for polyester content, allowing denim brands and mills to keep their spandex content low without sacrificing quality. The yarn undergoes a proprietary covering process that gives denim high stretch with less than 5 percent growth, minimizing bagging and sagging.
In addition to sustainability, Hyosung’s solutions for denim extend to performance properties.
Moisture control is not just for activewear. Hyosung has worked with brands to add wicking and cooling yarns to the inside of denim to boost the comfort factor for jeans. Many of these performance yarns are also made in sustainable versions, allowing for both technical and eco benefits.
Although the adoption of sustainable offerings is on the rise, conventional fibers are still the most frequently used. It often comes down to cost, since eco-friendly options tend to be more expensive. “Not everybody’s willing to pay those premiums,” O’Neill noted. But for those that are willing to invest, the options available continue to grow.
Click here to learn more about Hyosung.