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Early Days of Polyester

Polyester fabric was first created in 1941

Polyester fabric was first created in 1941 and quickly grew in popularity.  It was relatively inexpensive to manufacture, was sturdy and long lasting, mildew resistant, and unlike cotton relatively wrinkle free.  Early blends, however, suffered from criticism due to the fabrics lacking softness and comfort for the wearer.

The ’70s birthed the “polyester leisure suit” which for a time, though popular, damaged the public perception of polyester.  The polyester weaves of these suits were very coarse and the suits were scratchy and uncomfortable.  The leisure suit became a symbol of gaudiness and poor taste.

The early ’80s saw a renewal in the popularity of natural fabrics with synthetic fabrics such as polyester losing market share due a resurgence of cotton and wool blends.

The late ’80s saw an incredible resurgence of polyester with the introduction of ultra fine polyester thread (microfiber) in Japan allowing for the creation of threads many times finer than the human hair.  These threads were used to weave a finer fabric than silk material for fashion kimonos.  Polyester came roaring back as these ultra fine threads opened up so many possibilities for fabric creation.

In the 1990s, softer and softer weaves were developed with product testing showing that most people were unable to distinguish the look and feel from cotton or silk. In the ’90s, microfiber was the fabric of choice for many dance, street and club wear labels.

In the mid ’90s, digital video starting becoming popular but was not taken seriously as a technology for creating movies. Directors talked about how they would never shoot in digital. They didn’t want their movie to be shot in lower quality than they could shoot it on film.

Nowadays with the huge jump in quality of digital camera technology the reverse is true, with a minority of directors still using film but more because they are after the grainier, softer, lower definition look of film.

The same transformation is underway in the polyester textile/fashion industry with the emergence of digital imaging on fabric using dye sublimation. Polyester has been reborn and custom apparel printing emerged.

Initially dye sublimation was little more than an improvement on the use of transfers to add a design to custom apparel.  The process involved a hot press, but instead of gluing on a transfer, dye was embedded into the shirt.  The result was color fast, bright and did not crack or flake like transfers, but the method was not suitable for creating entire rolls of fabric.

The introduction of the continuous flow dye sublimation printers capable of printing on rolls of fabric saw dye sublimation printing reach another level. Now it was possible to affordably and quickly create high definition, 100% lasting color, virtually wrinkle free fabrics in many weights and textures.

At first the fashion industry was reluctant to embrace the re-emergence of polyester, perhaps a hangover of the leisure suit days and the impression that polyester was not “cool.” But then designers realized how far polyester fabric creation technology had come and fast embraced polyester as the fabric of the future.

There are now hundreds of different polyester fabrics suitable for use in fashion with many different weights, textures, elasticity, fiber thicknesses and fabric softness. Fashion designers are able to quickly and easily see their own custom apparel fabrics with textile designs go from computer screen to finished rolls ready for use in apparel in days.

If a new design turns out to be popular, more fabric can be created almost immediately and items restocked within weeks.  Need to tweak a design?  Head back to the computer, make your changes, then send us the revised concept and we are good to go.

Fashion shows throughout the world are now adding digital printing categories to their shows.  They were a huge hit at the 2015 New York Fashion week where digital imagery on polyester had a fashion category of its own with designers from around the world invited to show their in house designed fabrics and catwalk creations.