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November 22, 2021

Neoprene: everything a fashion startup needs to know

By: Peter Gregory

Looking for a material that holds its shape, keeps you warm and protects you from bumps and knocks? Look no further than neoprene

This man-made rubber substitute has been in use since the 1930s … but what do you really know about the stuff? Would you feel confident investing in a few metres of this material for your own business? How can you use it to grow your product line? 

In this guide we’ll tell you everything a clothing entrepreneur needs to know about neoprene! We’ll show you what’s so great about neoprene and share some fun ideas for neoprene projects. We’ll also give you a few pointers on how to work with this miracle fabric. 

Neoprene is the perfect material for scuba divers, triathletes and coasteering fanatics, because it performs really well in wet and cold conditions. It’s also used in a lot of industrial parts, thanks to its high tensile strength and resistance to extreme temperatures. It’s certainly a great technical fabric, but it’s also a strong choice for statement accessories. 

Benefits of neoprene:

Many designers are surprised with how easy it is to work with neoprene fabric. It’s a strong, spongy material that holds its shape and gives you a clean edge when you cut it. Nowadays it comes in a wide range of colours, thicknesses and finishes, too. You don’t even need to stitch it … you can literally glue pieces of it together to form a finished product. 

There are countless other benefits to the material, too. Neoprene…

  • Holds its shape under pressure (high tensile strength)
  • Protects against bumps, knocks and scratches
  • Resists damage from water, sunlight, chemicals and heat
  • Can be joined end-to-end (no need for interfacing materials)
  • Doesn’t fray when you cut it (no need for hemming)
  • Is machine washable (sometimes only on a delicate setting)

Neoprene project ideas:

Neoprene is the primary material for wetsuits, gloves and booties, but you’d be amazed at where else it crops up.  It holds its shape very well, so it’s ideal for bags, tags, purses, pencil cases, lunchboxes, phone cases, laptop cases … you name it. It’s also a popular choice in items like knee braces and ankle straps.

Take a look at some of the most common neoprene projects we’ve produced custom labels for over the years: 

Working with Neoprene

Neoprene doesn’t behave in the same way as a simple single-layer woven cotton. It doesn’t fold properly (if you fold it it will bounce back to a flat shape). It’s also slightly bulky, and you can’t iron it. There are some really simple rules to follow when working with neoprene: 


The right kit for neoprene

First, you need to make sure your sewing machine can handle the thickness and natural spring of  neoprene. You should use a heavy-duty machine with a walking foot so that the neoprene doesn’t bunch as it passes under the needle. 

You need to make sure that the needle you use is appropriate, too. Singer Sewing Machines recommend either a ball-point or twin needle (see the SINGER neoprene guide). 


The right joining method for neoprene

One of the best things about neoprene is how easy it is to stitch together. Place two pieces of neoprene up against each other, edge-to-edge, and you can bind them together with a simple zigzag stitch. The fabric doesn’t fray, so it won’t look messy and the stitching won’t pop out easily.

Stitching works fine for small joins and decorative details. If you’re going to be putting a seam under a lot of pressure, then it’s probably worth gluing each edge. For a lot of neoprene products (including wetsuits), the edges of each slice get painted with a thin layer of rubberised glue. Every slice is then pushed together, one edge at a time, to form a single finished piece.  You can then blind-stitch over the joins, just for a bit of added strength and visual interest.

Nylon seam tape isn’t vital, but it can make it more comfortable for the wearer. If the garment or accessory is going to be rubbing against the wearer’s skin, then a small amount of seam tape can stop any tiny glue bubbles from protruding from the back side of the seam. 


The right fastener choice for neoprene

Zippers and border-stitched velcro are the go-to fastener choices for most neoprene projects. Both can be stitched and/or  glued to the material, depending on the look you are aiming for. 

Snap fasteners are rarely found on neoprene, because the material is usually far too thick to take a snap fastener rivet. You could try adding buttons to a neoprene piece, but in most cases the button shank (or the button itself) will protrude too far from the surface of the fabric. 


The right labels for neoprene

Unusual and modern fabrics deserve an unusual and modern label! When it comes to neoprene, there are lots of options beyond the standard woven label which could really make your  branding pop. A securely-fastened silicone label can work really well with neoprene, as can a metal option. Woven patches work well, too. 

If you’re not sure which label would work best for your project, give us a call! We have hundreds of clothing startup customers all over the UK. We’ve seen our labels sitting against a wide variety of different man-made and organic fabrics. We’re more than happy to give you some ideas!

Thanks for reading!

Pete

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