Tyvek, a decades-old textile you've never heard of

I took a stroll along Danforth Avenue last week and popped into a cute little gift shop to buy the leopard print umbrella in the window. As I wandered around the store, I spied an extremely cool men's accessory that prompted this week's post. Gents, this week I bring you tales of an old, largely unknown textile that has many uses, a little number called Tyvek.

What the feck is Tyvek? 

Look for "Tyvek" on the white sheet surrounding buildings under construction.
Tyvek is a durable, lightweight synthetic textile created by DuPont in 1955. It is a highly breathable, water-resistant material made of high-density polyethylene fibres that water vapor can pass through. It's a material that may sound foreign to you, but I'm willing to bet you've already experienced it in some form or another.

Tyvek is used for products like courier and mailing envelopes, car covers, protective clothing, labels, wristbands, graphics, packaging, and house wrap, used in construction as "a weather-resistant barrier... [to] combat water, moisture and air infiltration that are any structure’s worst enemies. Allowed to penetrate behind siding, wind-driven rain and moisture can saturate walls, creating a breeding ground for mould, mildew and wood rot. The properties of DuPont™ Tyvek® do not support the growth of mould or mildew" (from the DuPont website).

How Tyvek is like felted wool

I reckon that Tyvek is the chemical alternative to felt in that it is made in a similar way. Felt is made of wool fibres compressed with pressure and heat and made into a usable textile. Similarly, Tyvek is made by the same process but with polyethylene fibres. To bring the fibres to a near-inpenetratable bond, Tyvek is created through a process called Spunbonding - polyethylene filament is extruded through a spinneret, then heat is applied to fuse the fibres together. Neither felt nor Tyvek is woven - felted wool is not very strong and can be pulled apart, but Tyvek cannot be ripped or torn - it is virtually indestructible unless you take a blade to it and slice it up.

Can you recycle it?

I certainly hope so. It's made of petrochemicals and it will be around longer than I will be so I think it's a good idea to be able to deal with it responsibly. I started looking around and the information I found on the web complained of recycling with DuPont only if you were hip to shelling out for postage, but these sites are a few years old and the DuPont website insists that users can order their Waste Management Recycle Kit that comes with a prepaid return envelope.

Sounds great, but you have to pay $15 to order the kit. If you're a conscious consumer and like to take environmental responsibility for products you use, you just might order the kit because $15 won't break the bank and you can send back up to 250 square feet of Tyvek products - a good move for busy offices. Interested? Find out about the DuPont kit here.

Wearing Tyvek

Tyvek can also be made into clothing. Tyvek is used for protective clothing for people who might work with hazardous materials and chemicals, but did you know that those thin, blue hospital shoe coverings are also made of Tyvek?

During the 80s, people gave Tyvek clothing a go, but it didn't really pan out: somewhere around 1987 or 88, I was working in the Eaton's casual menswear department at the same time the Beach Boys were making a comeback of some sort. One summer day while unpacking the stock for the Regina SK store as selected by Toronto ON buyers, I pulled out six blue bomber-style jackets with ribbed cuffs and waistbands out of Tyvek with Beach Boys graphics all over them. Hard on the eyes and in a foreign, soft papery-plastic material that just felt plain weird, these jackets didn't go over very well and I think I remember almost having to give those suckers away at the end of the season clearance.

I think Tyvek has to find the right people and the right people have to find Tyvek. In the late 1970s, this age of plastic material found its soul mate. New Wave syth-geek band, Devo, moved on stage like robots in their notorious two piece Tyvek suits topped by those kooky, stepped red hats. No one else could have pulled it off - watch Youtube link below.


(For anyone interested, I found a concert video of Pearl Jam performing Whip It in full-on Devo costume: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0MtvJZU920&feature=related!)

A super cool Tyvek accessory

What caught my attention in the store were the most fun, lightweight, indestructible, $15 hipster wallets made of Tyvek by Dynomighty. These wallets have no glue or thread to hold them together - they're folded. And they expand to cater to all of the crap that you know you're going to stuff in there and you can keep on cramming because the textile won't rip. Bonus!

You'll have a hard time choosing a favourite with so many graphics available - will it be the map of the London Underground? The Campbell's soup cans? The U.S.S. Enterprise? The sheet music? Or the Fonz? If you're in Toronto, you can find Dynomighty wallets live an in person at Drysdale & Co. on the south side of Danforth and Broadview or online and global at drysdaleandco.com.

Another cool feature of the Dynomighty wallet is that it is recyclable, or at least that's what their product videos say. This is a great website that discusses the wallets from a responsible ecological point of view and features the Dynomighty wallet video for your information.

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Tags: &, 80s, Beach, Boys, Co., Devo, Drysdale, DuPont, Dynomighty, Eaton's, More…It, Jam, Pearl, Tyvek, Whip, and, clothes, department, felt, felted, men's, menswear, polyethylene, recycling, suits, wallets, wool


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