One of the most common questions we are asked is, “What is the best fabric for swimwear?” It’s a fair question and one with a simple answer: “It depends.” The best swimwear fabric is the one which best suits your needs. Fortunately there aren’t really that many options, so let’s go through the list…
Swimwear Fabric 101
Most swim wear fabric is meant to stretch to accommodate all those gorgeous curves and to allow for a comfortable and safe swim. The fabric also needs to be able to both hold its shape when wet and to dry easily and quickly. For this reason, almost every type of swimwear fabric contains elastane fibers, aka Lycra or Spandex. Elastane is a synthetic fiber with elastic qualities that revolutionized the fashion industry when it was developed in the 1960s. Elastane is blended with other synthetic fibers to provide a comfortable stretch. The blend varies based on the manufacturer and the desired qualities, but generally is around 10%-20% elastane to 80%-90% other fiber(s).
Natural fibers such as cotton and wool easily lose their shape when wet. They are slow to dry and often hold a great deal of water, making them heavier than synthetic options. Definitely not a great option for swimwear, unless you’re planning to just hang out and look great on a sun chair. For this reason, we’re going to exclude natural fibers from this discussion.
Polyester swimwear fabrics, blended with Lycra, have the greatest level of durability amongst the fabric options. The blend percentage of poly to spandex will vary. The density of the knit and the softness will vary as well. Much of the differences in quality has to do with the quality of the filament used in the textile mill to create the fabric.
Qualities of Polyester Swimwear Fabric
The qualities of polyester that are most relevant to swimwear are:
- Durability: Polyester is a highly durable fiber. It holds its shape well in and out of the water. It resists pilling (the little balls of fuzz that can appear in the crotch and armpit areas). This is particularly relevant for surf swimwear, where the suit is in constant contact with the board
- Colorfastness: Polyester holds color very well in both dyes and prints.
- Cost: Polyester is one of the more reasonably-priced swimwear fabrics available
- Look/Feel: Polyester gets a bad name for its perceived “roughness” as far as hand feel goes. That’s a mostly outdated notion, however, as modern poly fabrics have improved dramatically and become quite soft, though not quite as much so as nylon.
Nylon fabric is arguably the most popular swimwear fabric. This is mostly due to its super soft handfeel and its ability to have a glossy or satin sheen.
Qualities of Nylon Swimwear Fabric
- Durability: Nylon is a strong fiber in terms of tensile strength, so it is well strong enough for use as a swimsuit fabric. However, it degrades more easily under UV (sunlight) and pills much more easily than polyester.
- Colorfastness: Nylon does not hold color quite as well as poly and is not easily printed.
- Cost: Prices of Nylon can range widely, but is generally just a bit more than poly.
- Look/Feel: Nylon has a great, soft handfeel and that is the primary reason for its popularity, in addition to its wider variety of sheens available.
Sustainability in Swimwear Fabric
Unfortunately, ALL synthetic fabrics release micro-plastic waste into the water. So that sucks. 🙁 But fortunately, some of the swimsuit fabrics available are made from recycled materials. Recently, Econyl, a recycled nylon fabric has gotten enormous press for its use of fishing industry waste in its recycled nylon filament. Other companies have begun producing recycled polyester products as well. While there is some debate about the environmental impact of the recycling process itself, there can be no doubt that upcycling plastic waste into the fashion industry is a good thing.
So, what’s the best fabric for swimwear?
It depends. 🙂
Here at Prototype, we work with a wide variety of clients with a wide variety of needs. We offer a wide variety of stock swimwear fabrics, as well as the ability to use anything that you, or we, are able to source. Contact us now and tell us about your business and your needs. We’ll be happy to help you from there!