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Oct 4, 2009

The Future of Fabrics

Spider Webs, Grass & Nanotubes – Behold the Brave New U.S. Textile Industry

It is tempting to think textile development hit its apex in 1873, when Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss invented denim blue jeans. What is more perfect than a worn pair of Levi’s?

It’s equally as easy to posit that advances in fabric – at least from a fashion-conscious consumer perspective – hit their nadir sometime in the late 1920s, when Wallace Carothers tinkered with what became polyester. Many of us remember the disastrous effects polyester had on 1970s shirts.


The folks at Supreme Corp. say its Tuff-n-Lite fabric is as “soft as cotton, stronger than steel.” The North Carolina company blends super-strong synthetics such as Dyneema, Spectra and Twaron with its own proprietary ultra high molecular weight polyethylene fibers to produce cut-resistant fabric for military, police, safety and extreme sports apparel. On tap: stab- and fire-resistant material for soft body armor and other applications.




Taggant, You’re It

Is that a taggant in your trousers? Tennessee-based Fiber Innovation Technology is embedding microscopic markers inside threads to protect against knock-offs. The markers or taggants identify the manufacturer, assuring consumers they’re getting the real deal. Some taggant pigments light up under laser wands. In the not too distant future, the company hopes to have taggants made of edible compounds that can be sprayed on agricultural products and pharmaceuticals. These micro identifiers would make it easier to isolate tainted products in the event of government-mandated recalls.




Spider silk is lighter, more elastic and – pound for pound – tougher than Kevlar. For decades, scientists have been trying to get arachnids to produce the stuff in bulk, much like silkworms have done for centuries. Unlike silkworms, however, spiders resist domestication and tend to eat each other when confined in groups. North Carolina-based EntoGenetics says it has discovered a way to infuse the spider’s gene into the silkworm, creating a creature that can spin strong, spider-like silk en mass without all the internecine insect violence. Possible uses: bullet-resistant vests, rope, parachutes, fine fabrics, medical sutures, ligament replacement and racing tires.

For more information, contact David Brigham,


No More Bed Bugs

Eczema. Psoriasis. Dermatitis. Poison ivy. The mere words can send some reaching for a shot of corticosteroid. North Carolina-based Precision Fabrics Group has unveiled a line of “therapeutic” bedding and other linens under the brand DermaTherapy for those with ultra-sensitive skin. According to one of the company’s 36 U.S. patents, its fabric also “provides a barrier to mite-induced allergen particles.” The Food and Drug Administration-approved line of bedding minimizes friction, reduces itching and is super soft. Take that, Egyptian cotton.



Move Over, Hemp

Since at least 1989, U.S. researchers have been tinkering with kenaf, a fast-growing, high-yield fiber plant related to cotton and okra. Historically, the main uses of kenaf fiber have been rope, twine, course cloth (the Egyptians used it to make sails) and paper. Indeed, much of the domestic focus has been on using kenaf for eco-friendly “treeless” paper production. But 3F, yet another North Carolina company, is thinking bigger thoughts. It is developing a version of treated kenaf to make lighter, stronger precast concrete for bridges, buildings and the like. The lighter the precast concrete, the less fuel it takes to truck it to work sites. And the stronger the precast concrete, of course, the safer it is. The company also is turning kenaf into a bio-renewable replacement for fiberglass.



Less Is More

Nanocomp Technologies of New Hampshire is making long non-woven textiles out of carbon nanotubes, hexagonally shaped arrangements of carbon atoms that have been rolled into, well, tubes. The company fabricates nanotubes into strong, lightweight electro-thermally conductive yarn and sheets. The goal: Make high efficiency super-capacitors for thermal-electric or heat-to-power generation. Nanotube materials also could dramatically reduce the weight and payload of electrical and structural systems in aircraft, making them more fuel efficient.


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