It’s hard to improve on Mother Nature. Nearly two centuries into the industrial age there is still a healthy demand for silk, cotton and wool. These materials remain important textiles, but the chemical industry has created some new materials that weren’t around a hundred years ago, like rayon, nylon and Supplex nylon.
Rayon was the first synthetic fiber, or more properly, semi-synthetic fiber. It begins as cellulose, the major component of plant cell walls. Scientists first developed the methods to process cellulose from wood pulp and cotton into a fabric in 1884. First called artificial silk, the name was changed to rayon in 1924.
In 1934, textile researchers at DuPont, under the direction of Dr. Wallace Hume Carothers, invented nylon. This synthetic polymer had many of the properties of silk, but could be mass produced using chemical industrial processes. The new material revolutionized the textiles industry. It was introduced commercially in 1940. By the following year, sales were over $25 million. The new fiber was a crucial component of the war effort. The U.S. military used 3.8 million nylon parachutes in its fight against the axis powers.
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Introducing Supplex Nylon
The Dupont company continued to improve synthetic textile manufacturing. It sought to create a synthetic material that could be mass produced but would be softer and more comfortable to wear than nylon. The result was Supplex nylon, trademarked by Dupont in 1985. The individual polymer fibers in Supplex nylon are finer and more numerous than in standard nylon, creating a product that is softer and more water-repellent.
Supplex nylon is an important textile product today. While other types of nylon have found more diverse commercial applications, including tires, carpets, toothbrushes and parachutes, Supplex nylon is used primarily in clothing manufacturing, especially in swimwear and sportswear. It is marketed as combining the comfort of cotton with the durability of nylon. Supplex is a trademarked brand name, currently held by the Invista corporation, which separated from its parent company, Dupont, in 2003.