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January 28, 2022


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Fabric University | Fabric Seminar | Fiber Characteristics | Soybean
Fiber Characteristics

SOYBEAN

Manufactured Fiber - sustainable fiber made from soy by-products

CHARACTERISTICS:

  • Stronger tensile strength than wool, and has almost the same warmth retention as wool
  • Soft and drapeable---feels like cashmere
  • Can be spun into a variety of yarn weights
  • Takes dyes very well
  • Yarn is not always colorfast, and may bleed slightly through the first few washings
  • Same moisture absorption as cotton, but with better moisture transmission than cotton
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Pilling may be a problem

MAJOR END USES:

  • Apparel - childrens clothes, T-shirts, travel apparel/casual sportswear
  • Other - automotive foams, films, packaging

Background
The manufacture of soybean fiber dates back to the 1930s and 40s. Henry Ford is attributed with introducing soy fabrics into the market.  In 1938 Ford wore a soybean-blended necktie, which was said to be his favorite 75th birthday present.  In 1941, the Detroit Times photographed Ford wearing the first known soybean suit and tie, made of a blend of soybean "wool" and sheep's wool.  Prior to 1940, most of the upholstery for Ford cars was made from sheep's wool.  However in that year, a pilot plant for soybean “wool” was built with the capacity to produce 1,000 pounds per day.  Shortly thereafter, a blended fabric made of 25% soybean “wool” and 75% sheep's wool was used as the sidewall upholstery in many Ford cars.  The fabric was used as car upholstery until World War II, when soybean fiber became a victim of the war, and was replaced by newer, less expensive man-made fibers like nylon.

In 1999, a breakthrough in soybean fiber production made the mass manufacturing of soybean fiber realistic and economically viable.  In 2003, the development of this production process was awarded the gold prize by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This resurgence in the early 2000s came as a result of an increased interest in the development of more sustainable natural fibers.

Production 
Soybean fiber is a sustainable textile fiber made from renewable natural resources. The soybean protein fiber is actually made from the byproduct leftovers of soybean oil/tofu/soymilk production, which would normally be discarded.  The production of this fiber is an effort to move textile production away from petrochemical textile products, and to turn waste into useful products. Utilizing high heat in the wet-spinning process, the protein liquids are forced through a spinneret, to make the liquid soy, which are solidified during the cool-down process. The byproducts of soybean production can be used as fodder or fertilizer. All secondary products used in the production of soybean fiber are harmless and are recyclable.

Fabrics made from soy fiber are eco-friendly, and are so soft that some people call it "vegetable cashmere."


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