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Q: You mentioned polyester fabrics. What about acrylic fabrics? Do you plan to incorporate them into your clothing designs?
A: Thus far I have not, and it is unlikely I will use any acrylic fabrics in any upcoming clothing designs. I will not rule out the possibility of using some in future designs. Also, it is  unlikely that I will incorporate any acrylic-based textiles sold as “milk” cloth.

 

History of Acrylic

 

Acrylic is a synthetic fabric first made by the DuPont Chemical Company in 1948. The acrylic fabric is manufactured in a similar fashion to polyester. Acrylic is made from a petrochemical base, then turned into a fabric fiber. The difference between acrylic and polyester is that acrylic is made from a different chemical base than polyester. Acrylic is made from a base of acrylic acid, whereas polyester is made from polymers of the esters functional group. Acrylic acid is used as the basis for a whole family of polymers that are used in countless applications, such as computer cases, liquid containers, and beverage bottles. The popularity of acrylics in liquid packaging is due to their low permeability to gases, their strength, and their flexibility. For several decades, acrylic has also been a popular fiber in the manufacturing of carpets.

 

Acrylic follows the basic manufacturing process of any extruded fiber textile. The base materials of the fiber are liquefied and pushed through a hole. Pushing the base components through a hole is done by centrifugally spinning the fibers from a spinneret, or pushing them through a nozzle. The base chemicals needed to make a fiber are either turned into a liquid form by heating and melting, or by mixing with a solvent. If the base chemicals have been heated and liquefied, only a cooling bath or stream of gas is immediately needed. If a solvent is used for base-fiber chemical liquefaction, a chemical bath is needed immediately after extrusion to remove the solvents. Sometimes a combination bath is used to both harden fibers and remove solvent at the same time. Whatever liquefying and extruding method is used, the fibers are always washed, stretched, straightened, and dried before leaving the factory.

 

Ecological and Social Impacts of Acrylic

 

 Acrylic has a bad track record of ecological friendliness. The process of making acrylic requires a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals to begin with. It also produces a bevy of toxic byproducts after manufacturing. The toxic leftovers from manufacturing acrylic usually wind up in the acrylic factory’s local watershed. The making of acrylic also uses a lot of fresh water.

 

At this time, there are no more acrylic manufacturers in the Unites States—mostly due to low demand, but also because of environmental concerns. Acrylic is still being produced in significant quantities for export and local consumption in Latin America, China, India, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Acrylic is now produced primarily in places with less stringent environmental regulations.

 

As with most plastic manufacturing processes, the factories making acrylic are progressively releasing fewer toxic chemicals and are using less fresh water. It is possible to make acrylic production a closed-loop process where all the chemicals used in the manufacturing process are recycled or reprocessed. A closed-loop manufacturing process could avoid releasing noxious chemicals into the environment, regardless of what chemicals are used in production. Of course, since the possibility of chemical spills still exists, it is better not to produce toxic chemicals at all. As with other plastics, hemp oil could be substituted for petrochemicals as a base material for acrylic production. If acrylic had replaced cotton as the fabric of choice for textiles, hemp would surely already be so used.

 

Q: What are the advantages of using acrylic in your fabric designs?
A: Acrylic is a relatively inexpensive fabric. It is relatively breathable and has decent stretching properties. Many manufacturers of athletic socks prefer using acrylic. Like polyester, acrylic is not very prone to shrinkage or color bleeding.

Q: So what are the disadvantages of incorporating acrylic into your clothing designs?
A: At this time, acrylic is not a very popular fabric for clothing. Past acrylics developed a reputation for being itchy, for fraying, and for poor abrasion resistance, and this reputation largely remains.

Q: Why did you mention milk fabric when talking about acrylic?
A: Some manufacturers are now trying to sell acrylic-based “milk” fabrics as a green and healthy alternative to cotton. The manufacturers of these “milk”-based fabrics tend to be deliberately vague about the actual process of turning milk into a usable textile.