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What is Sympatex Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • August 24, 2019 • 9 min read

Fabric name Sympatex
Fabric composition Polyether and polyester
Fabric breathability Highly breathable
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities High
Stretchability (give) Medium
Prone to pilling/bubbling None
Country where fabric was first produced Germany
Biggest exporting/producing country today Germany
Recommended washing temperatures Cold or warm
Commonly used in Shoe lining, tracksuits, rain shells, winter jackets, gloves, pants, windbreakers, hats

Sympatex Membrane Lenzing FibersSympatex Membrane Lenzing Fibers

What Is Sympatex Fabric?

Sympatex is a type of functional textile developed by the German company SympaTex Technologies GmbH. This fabric was developed as an eco-friendly alternative to other functional fabrics, such as GORE-TEX, and like its main competitors, Sympatex serves the function of promoting breathability while remaining 100 percent waterproof.

The Sympatex brand was originally created by a Dutch conglomerate called the Akzo Nobel Group in 1986. While this company remained owned by Dutch nationals, it had its first headquarters in Wuppertal, Germany.

In 2003, however, a German company called Ploucquet purchased SympaTex Technologies GmbH in its entirety. Ploucquet had long been a laminate supplier for SympaTex, and after the acquisition, the Sympatex brand became highly focused on producing functional apparel for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts.

The word “Sympatex” is a portmanteau of “sympathetic” and “textiles,” and this name is intended to evoke the eco-friendly benefits of this material. Most of the alternatives to Sympatex, such as GORE-TEX, are made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is notorious for its negative effects on the environment.

Sympatex, on the other hand, is made from a blend of polyester and polyether, and it is 100 percent recyclable. The environmental benefits of Sympatex over competing products, however, are questionable. SympaTex Technologies GmbH is not completely transparent regarding its production processes, and since neither polyester nor polyether is biodegradable, the only way to reduce the environmental impact of this material is to make sure that it is properly recycled.

Sympatex Active Membrane Softshell JacketSympatex Active Membrane Softshell Jacket

Like PTFE functional fabrics, the main benefit of Sympatex is its waterproof attributes. This unique membrane is completely impermeable to liquid water, but it still allows water vapor to pass through it. The water that you encounter in the form of rain, mist, or snow is in a liquid or solid state, but the water that you exude from your pores in the form of sweat is in the form of a vapor.

Sympatex is, therefore, breathable. It does not retain sweat even though it keeps water from touching your skin. SympaTex Technologies GmbH also claims that this fabric is entirely windproof.

In addition to offering a wide array of pre-made products, Sympatex also produces bespoke products made to order. All these products are then made into consumables by third-party manufacturers. It’s possible to order Sympatex by the sheet or in the exact form you need it to be in to integrate it into an existing garment or shoe design.

While SympaTex Technologies GmbH is headquartered in Munich, it has offices in more than 20 countries. This company continues to produce new products and announce breakthroughs; for instance, SympaTex Technologies announced in 2018 that it intends to switch to spun-dying processes for its fabrics, which would reduce water waste and water contamination considerably.

This company also announced a new fleece-like product in 2019 that will be made entirely from recycled laminate. This new product will add to the lineup of functional textiles that SympaTex Technologies hopes will reduce the environmental impact of waterproof fabrics.

How Is Sympatex Fabric Made?

how is sympatex fabric made

Sympatex is a mixture of polyester and polyether. Both substances are derived from fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

The fossil fuel component used to make polyester is ethylene, which is a derivative of petroleum. To form the monomer form of polyester, ethylene glycol is reacted with dimethyl terephthalate in the presence of a catalyst. Then, this monomer is reacted with dimethyl terephthalate again at a higher temperature to create molten polymer polyester.

This molten substance is then extruded from the chamber in long, thin ribbons. Once this material cools, it becomes brittle, and polyester manufacturers then proceed by breaking this substance into small chips.

These chips are then melted, and they are extruded from a spinneret, which is a showerhead-like device with lots of holes. The manufacturer will choose a spinneret model with holes that are in the desired shape for the resulting fiber.

SYMPATEX Thermal Jacket Ladies Dark GreenSYMPATEX Thermal Jacket Ladies Dark Green

Once the polyester fiber has been extruded, it is soft and supple, which means it can be stretched up to seven times its original length. Once this stretching process, called “drawing,” is complete, the resulting fibers are wound onto spools in preparation for fabric weaving.

Polyether is made in a comparable way to polyester. These two substances have slightly different properties, but they are highly similar in most metrics.

How Is Sympatex Fabric Used?

how is sympatex fabric used

The primary use of Sympatex fabric is in outdoor apparel. Outdoor enthusiasts highly value waterproofing and breathability in their garments and shoes, and Sympatex capitalizes on this market by offering a product that is simultaneously water-resistant and permeable to perspiration vapor.

For instance, this substance may be used as the lining in a winter jacket. This lining will keep the wearer dry, but it will also allow sweat to pass through the membrane. In some cases, the type of Sympatex used in winter wear may also reflect a portion of the released body heat at the wearer for enhanced comfort in cold conditions.

Furygan Sympatex JET D30 SneakersFurygan Sympatex JET D30 Sneakers

As another example, a shoe manufacturer might use Sympatex in its hiking boots. Many hikers like to go on excursions in wet areas, but moisture inside a hiker’s boots can end an expedition quickly. Feet release a lot of sweat during physical exertion, and a material like Sympatex allows this sweat to be released into the surrounding air while keeping mud, rain, and other sources of moisture from seeping in.

Lastly, Sympatex may also be used in lightweight apparel for long-distance runners. Since this fabric is breathable, it keeps body heat down while allowing sweat to evaporate through the membrane. However, it also protects runners from sudden rainstorms or other unexpected sources of moisture.

Where Is Sympatex Fabric Produced?

sympatex fabric in the world

All the world’s Sympatex is produced by SympaTex Technologies GmbH, which is based in Germany. While this company discloses that it has a presence in more than 20 countries, it does not disclose in which of these countries it produces its waterproof functional fabrics. It’s likely that at least a portion of this production occurs in Germany with further production occurring in low-cost locations like China or India.

How Much Does Sympatex Fabric Cost?

SympaTex Technologies does not disclose the price of its flagship fabric. It’s likely that the bulk cost of this fabric depends on the quantities in which this German company sells it to apparel manufacturers around the world.

For the end consumer, Sympatex is not significantly different in price from competing products. In most cases, this substance is only used to make linings in textile products, so it doesn’t contribute a significant percentage to the overall garment composition. While apparel, shoes, and other items that contain substances like Sympatex and GORE-TEX are usually relatively expensive, this increased price is also due to factors like garment design and distribution costs.

What Different Types of Sympatex Fabric Are There?

different types of sympatex fabric

To date, SympaTex Technologies has produced four different types of Sympatex fabric. In addition, SympaTex Technologies offers these functional fabrics in three different membrane thickness levels.

Fabric Types

1. HighH2Out

SympaTex Technologies claims that its HighH2Out fabric is 120 percent more breathable than its original product. Its inner lining is more absorbent than original Sympatex, which allows this fabric to wick more moisture from human skin and pass it into the outer environment.

2. Reflexion

Reflexion Sympatex is solely used in cold-weather gear. It contains a thin layer of aluminum that rests between the inner lining and outer layers of the fabric. This aluminum layer reflects heat produced by the body back at the wearer to fight back against the effects of cold weather.

3. Phaseable

Phaseable Sympatex is designed to react dynamically to environmental temperature shifts. Instead of an inner lining, this type of Sympatex features a layer of small foam dots that rest against the wearer’s skin.

These dots are close together in colder temperatures, but as soon as the temperature increases, they become farther apart, which exposes more of the wearer’s skin to the inner Sympatex fabric. When you first put on a Phaseable Sympatex garment before exercise, for instance, it will be cool, but as soon as you start running or performing another physical activity, the fabric will heat up, and the dots will spread apart to encourage maximum breathability.

4. Airflow

In footwear, breathability is all-important, but waterproofing is just as vital. Airflow Sympatex is designed specifically for shoes, and it features four layers that simultaneously protect the wearer’s feet against water while transferring sweat into the outer environment.

Thickness Levels

SYMPATEX Thermal Jacket Ladies BlackSYMPATEX Thermal Jacket Ladies Black

1. Professional

Professional Sympatex is the thickest type of fabric that SympaTex Technologies offers. This thickness is designed for industrial applications or heavy-duty outdoor gear.

2. Allweather

SympaTex Technologies has designed Allweather Sympatex to be ideal for rain shells and other relatively light-duty outdoor gear. While it is still relatively thick, it is also more lightweight and breathable than Professional Sympatex.

3. Windmaster

At only 5 micrometers thick, Windmaster Sympatex is incredibly lightweight and versatile. Common applications for this type of Sympatex include shoes, gloves, and other light-duty outdoor apparel applications.

SYMPATEX Active Jacket Ladies Dark Grey

How Does Sympatex Fabric Impact the Environment?

SympaTex Technologies is highly focused on creating environmentally-sustainable functional textile options that are just as waterproof and breathable as options offered by its competitors. Here is some information on the various environmental initiatives that this fabric producer pursues:

1. Detox My Fashion

SympaTex Technologies is a participant in this Greenpeace-led initiative to stop the introduction of hazardous substances into the world’s water sources. In both 2012 and 2013, Sympatex was the winner of an award that Greenpeace offered as part of its program, which indicates that this veteran environmental organization believes that Sympatex is doing its part to avoid introducing toxic chemicals into the water supply.

2. Textile Partnership

SympaTex Technologies is a member of the Textile Partnership, which is a German organization that seeks to eliminate waste, worker exploitation, and other potentially environmentally degrading aspects of fabric production throughout every link in the supply chain.

3. Sustainable Apparel Coalition

As a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Sympatex does its part in promoting sustainable practices within the apparel industry. The members of the SAC evaluate the sustainability of their business practices based on the Higgs Index, and they constantly strive to be more sustainable.

Details on Recyclability

The main environmental benefit of Sympatex is that it is recyclable. However, just because an item is recyclable doesn’t mean that it is environmentally friendly.

Many consumers think that the moment they put an item in a recycling bin, they are guaranteeing that the item will be recycled sustainably. However, the vast majority of the world’s recyclables go to China, and these items are commonly recycled with environmentally hazardous processes.

If a recycler doesn’t want to take a recyclable item, it simply goes to the landfill just like any other piece of trash. SympaTex Technologies does not provide a special system for recycling its products; instead, this company says that its products should be recycled just like an average PET bottle.

This unfortunate fact means there is no guarantee that a recycled Sympatex product won’t go the landfill or otherwise contribute further to environmental degradation. In addition, there’s no guarantee that a consumer will choose to recycle his or her Sympatex product.

Details on Manufacturing

The two components of Sympatex are polyester and polyether. Both substances are derived from fossil fuels, which means that producing both polyester and polyether is inherently environmentally unsustainable. While it’s possible to make polyester and polyether from recycled materials, industrial science has yet to determine a way to make these products with organic compounds other than petroleum oil or coal.

A variety of hazardous compounds are produced during the manufacture of both polyester and polyether. While it’s possible to reduce the environmental blowback associated with the production of these synthetic compounds with the right manufacturing processes, there’s no getting around the fact that polyether and polyester are non-biodegradable materials that will inevitably contaminate the environment if they are not recycled.

Sympatex Fabric Certifications Available

sympatex fabric certifications

SympaTex Technologies is the only licensed producer of Sympatex. Therefore, the only certification required for Sympatex is the SympaTex Technologies logo. There are no other certifications available for this fabric, but SympaTex Technologies does submit its fabrics to a wide variety of different types of testing and analysis.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.