How ECONYL Fabric Can Help Save The Oceans: A 5-minute Guide

You may be looking for sustainable swimwear options and encountered ECONYL is gaining popularity. Or perhaps you are simply curious about this sustainable fabric.

In this article, I describe all you need to know about ECONYL fabric.

What is ECONYL fabric?

ECONYL fabric is a 100% recycled yarn made from pre and post-consumer nylon waste, produced by Aquafil. The waste, mostly coming from fishnets, is recovered — cleaning up the oceans — and transformed into a new polyamide yarn with precisely the same properties as virgin nylon. 

In short, the ECONYL regeneration process transforms the waste into a new source of fabric to be implemented into the fashion and furniture industries.

ECONYL is a 100% recycled yarn made from pre and post-consumer nylon waste. Most of the waste comes from fishnets.
ECONYL is a 100% recycled yarn made from pre and post-consumer nylon waste. Most of the waste comes from fishnets.

Aquafil history

The company was founded in 1965 and established its first production facility in Arco, Italy, in 1969. They specialized in the polymerization and manufacturing of nylon 6 fibers.

After years of perfecting the nylon yarn production, in 2017, a new business unit was established in the company — Energy & Recycling — to focus on sustainability issues. 

They began producing ECONYL polymer from pre and post-consumer waste in 2011 in their Julon plant in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

In 2017 Aquafil shares went public on the Italian stock exchange; this was, in part, thanks to concrete achievements like ECONYL 100% recycled and 100% performance nylon yarn. In addition, Aquafil revolutionized the concept of waste, transforming it into a raw material that can be regenerated indefinitely.


Moving even further with their sustainability aims, in 2018, the company took part in the European project EFFECTIVE to develop nylon and other textile fiber from biomaterials.

How is ECONYL made?

To produce ECONYL, Aquafil follows a “life cycle thinking” approach. 

The standard nylon process involves the following steps:

  1. Oil extraction
  2. Oil transformation
  3. Caprolactam production
  4. Polymerization
  5. Yarn production 

ECONYL process has the following steps:

  1. Depolymerization of waste (pre and post-consumer) and ECONYL
  2. Polymerization
  3. ECONYL yarn production 
This infographic explains the difference between standard nylon and ECONYL production.
This infographic explains the difference between standard nylon and ECONYL production.

Is ECONYL really sustainable?

While ECONYL is good for the environment, in principle, it doesn’t address all of the problems related to the production, usage, and disposal of nylon on the planet. So let’s then divide this topic into two parts: what ECONYL solves and what’s still missing.

As we read before, the recycled yarn is produced from already existing nylon products, which, if not recycled, would remain polluting the oceans and landfills for many years (it’s estimated that nylon takes 30 to 40 years to degrade). 

Therefore, making that waste useful again is a great way to achieve circularity and not contaminate the environment even more with the production of brand new nylon.

RELATED ARTICLE: Recycled Fabrics Are The New Black, But Are They Sustainable?

If the Aquafil process were 100% perfect, they would recycle all the existing nylon an indefinite number of times, and the world would not need to produce any virgin one. Of course, that’s a massive challenge for just one company, but Aquafil aims to improve on circularity. 

In recent years, Aquafil has increased the production of secondary raw materials (in particular ECONYL regenerated caprolactam) to promote a circular economy. In 2018, the overall quantity of secondary raw materials used was around 168,000 tons.

On the other hand, the are inherent problems associated with nylon production that ECONYL currently doesn’t address. The recycled fabric is produced very similar to virgin nylon, which means there’s probably water contamination, toxic substances, and carbon emissions.

Let’s remember as well that nylon is a fossil fuel-derived fabric, and hence it’s not a biodegradable product. So even ECONYL yarn will stay on the planet for a long time, possibly ending up as waste and polluting in the same way as traditional nylon.

To tackle the inherent challenges that the fabric has, initiatives like project EFFECTIVE try to substitute plastics with bio-materials. Nylon is an excellent candidate to be replaced by organic materials. 

The innovative process introduced by the EFFECTIVE project begins with creating and manufacturing bio-based polyamides and polyesters and continues with a demonstration of their usability in large consumer products. Finally, the loop is closed by demonstrating circular end-of-life treatment of products.

All of these innovations, when combined, might offer a realistic way to achieve sustainability and address the current challenges that nylon products pose to the environment.

ECONYL fabric certifications

ECONYL has received several certifications, including Standard 100 certification from OEKO-TEX. You can find all other certifications here.

ECONYL properties

ECONYL, being basically nylon, has the following characteristics:

  • Strongness and elasticity. For this reason, ECONYL is very often used for form-fitting clothing like stockings, leggings, tights, activewear, and swimwear.
  • Water-resistance. The fabric doesn’t absorb water; this makes it excellent for outerwear garments such as trench coats.
  • Wrinkle-resistance. The fabric does not wrinkle easily.
  • Fast-drying. This characteristic makes the fabric ideal for travelers.
  • Easy to wash. ECONYL is, in general, easy to clean and care for.

It’s worth mentioning that, because of the above characteristics, ECONYL yarn is used for both apparel and industrial applications. For example, it’s very commonly used in carpeting. 

The material has gained a lot of popularity among fashionable apparel brands that are more and more investing in using ECONYL in their designs to cater to clients that care about sustainability.

As an example of the above, Prada has replaced some of its most iconic nylon products with Econyl — dubbed as Re-Nylon — and plans to substitute all its nylon with recycled material by late 2021. The material is also now famously being used for outerwear by Gucci and Burberry.

Here you can find a list of other brands that use ECONYL fabric in their clothing lines.

Many brands, including luxury ones, are planning to substitute their nylon products with ECONYL in the future.
Many brands, including luxury ones, are planning to substitute their nylon products with ECONYL in the future.

ECONYL cost

The cost of ECONYL fabric is slightly higher than virgin nylon. According to Vogue Business, Prada spends about 15 to 20 percent more per linear meter of the material. The cost increase is due to recovering waste nylon from the environment and the state-of-the-art process of depolymerizing and then polymerizing it back to produce the yarn.

ECONYL compared to other fabrics

ECONYL compared to cotton and polyester

CharacteristicsECONYLCottonPolyester
SoftnessNot as soft as cottonIt feels crisp initially and then gets softer with use and washingSlightly coarse; it may not be suitable for sensitive skin
BreathabilityNot breathable; it tends to trap moisture on the skinCool and breathable but cannot wick away moistureNot breathable; it will trap moisture instead of wicking it away
DurabilitySuper long-lasting and durableIt’s durable, but it requires more washes than other fabricsSuper long-lasting and durable
MaintenanceEasy to care for and machine-washableEasy to care for and machine-washableIt does not require special care; machine-washable
Resistance to wrinklesYesNoYes
SustainabilityRecyclable indefinite timesThere are sustainable choices, like organic cottonNot sustainable
PriceCheaper than other fabricsOn pair with other mainstream fabricsConsiderably cheaper than other fabrics

How to care for ECONYL

ECONYL fabric has the same physical and chemical properties as regular nylon; therefore, the same care instructions apply. Nylon is usually very easy to wash and take care of, but it might be damaged if the proper techniques are not followed.

Remember always to check your clothing tags for specific directions, but you can use the following general advice:

  • Washing. Wash ECONYL separately in a cold or low-temperature setting for best results. You can use regular laundry detergent, but avoid chlorine bleach.
  • Drying. If you’re using the drier machine, select the lowest temperature possible to prevent potential damage or melt the garments. Air drying might be the best option to extend the life of delicate items like tights or lingerie.
Caring for ECONYL is the same as caring for nylon.
Caring for ECONYL is the same as caring for nylon.

ECONYL fabric FAQs

Is ECONYL fabric biodegradable?

No, ECONYL is not biodegradable. As a synthetic fabric, it’s very resistant to decomposition and will take approximately 30 to 40 years to degrade. 

Is ECONYL fabric organic?

No, ECONYL is a recycled polyamide fabric; hence it’s not organic. 

Is ECONYL fabric breathable?

No, as a synthetic fabric ECONYL is not exactly breathable, and it tends to trap heat and sweat on the skin.

Is ECONYL expensive?

The cost of ECONYL fabric is slightly higher than virgin nylon.

How is ECONYL dyed?

According to the ECONYL website, the dye is added to the polymers before the fiber is extruded. Adding the color when producing the polymer allows the manufacturers to control the process, so the yarn is dyed most sustainably.

Final thoughts

It’s great to see the focus that companies put into sustainability in recent years, and Aquafil’s initiative is certainly one of the most important for recycling polyamide yarns. 

It’s also encouraging to find out that more and more brands incorporate textiles like ECONYL in their designs. And even more, that consumers are interested in these products, instead of not environmentally friendly ones.

However, these are just tiny steps into a more sustainable world. All the nylon that’s already on our planet will stay here for years to come. More manufacturers and the government need to work together to stop producing harmful materials and focus on circularity and innovation in biodegradable textiles to see real change.

If you would like to expand your knowledge about modern sustainable fabrics, make sure to check out the article I wrote about the fascinating EcoVero viscose fabric.