by John Ortved
Breakthroughs in development and manufacturing are leading to the creation of revolutionary fabrics with properties like you’ve never seen before.
During their famous 1953 ascent of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay relied on a familiar material to keep the deadly elements at bay: nylon. Hillary, drawing inspiration from military apparel, created a windproof suit of woven cotton and nylon to be worn over the pair’s Shetland-wool base layers. We’ve since improved or invented fabrics for every possible weather condition on earth—and the moon, and Mars—and we’re still experimenting with the stuff. Fashion may be cyclical, but the attempt to innovate materials that breathe better, last longer or recycle easier moves in only one direction: forward.
“The advantage of nylon is mechanical performance,” says Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, which produces a recycled version of the material, Econyl, that’s now making its way into some of today’s finest wares. “You get more with less when compared to natural yarns or polyesters.”
Despite the fiber’s low weight, nylon has high thermal resistance and amazing tensile strength, which makes it perfect for outerwear. Burberry has a capsule collection, including a monogrammed jacquard car coat, parka and backpack, developed around Econyl, which takes fibers from waste materials like fishing nets and carpet (about 4 billion pounds of floor covering are discarded each year into landfills in the US) and recycles them into a nylon yarn as functional as—and more recyclable than—virgin nylon. Stella McCartney, who’s committed to abandoning virgin nylon completely by year’s end, relies on it, as does Prada, which uses Econyl for its Re-Nylon line of bags, including a handsome men’s duffel in navy.