The rise of polyester

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Cotton prices are soaring; the fact that this means higher prices for raw materials used in fashion, and therefore for the consumer, is no surprise. But one less well-known aspect of the higher price of cotton is that polyester is getting a knock-on boost: as manufacturers search elsewhere for material, demand for the man-made rises. Even worse: the rising price of oil, which is used in manufacturing, has raised raw material costs still more. In other words, just because you’re wearing un-natural fibres, don’t expect a bargain!

The funny thing is, the idea that polyester= cheap, while widespread, is not necessarily correct to begin with. Polyester got a bad name in the 1970s, when the organic cotton lobby had done a great job of discrediting it as a fashion fibre, to the extent that most consumers when asked often say polyester is: 1) bad for the environment; and 2) yucky.

But in reality, polyester and its kin are often very good, at least when it comes to high-fashion products. When it comes to the high street (and given the narrowness of their margins, this is probably where the price increase is going to be felt the most keenly) it may be true that the polyester is of lower quality. But then, so is the cotton.

In any case, many high-fashion brands have increasingly turned to polyester and various kinds of viscose for their own garments, and not because of pricing, necessarily, but just because of the possibilities of the materials. Lanvin, Bottega Veneta and Azzedine Alaia are three major fashion names who have extolled (and sold) the properties of fabulous not-in-nature fabrics, most often sourced in Japan, where fabric research is highly advanced, and where polyester and viscose are turned light as air, and glossy as silk.

Those sorts of effects never come cheap. But it may take the boom in commodities to make everyone realise it.

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