M&S Fashion Brands and Synthetic Fabrics

Innovative new synthetic fabrics

In 1935 the first M&S textile laboratory was set up at the Baker Street headquarters in London. Scientists worked to ensure that all M&S garments were of the highest quality. Problems were identified and fixed in the labs, and completely new synthetic fabrics were developed. 

As early as 1948, the Company started selling nylon, followed by Tricel, Orlon, Courtelle, Terylene and Crimplene in the 1950s and 60s. These fabrics were all designed to make life easier; they might be drip-dry or easy-iron. Synthetic fabrics could also be made more cheaply than natural fabrics, so clothing became more affordable. 

The wartime fabric 'Utility Schedule 1005' was renamed 'Marspun' in the early 1950s. About 3000 Marspun dresses had been sold by 1955. There were 340 designs created, including designs based on Dior’s New Look, and 2000 different colour combinations. There was strong evidence that man-made fabrics were much more popular than natural fabrics:

 

  • Sales of natural fabric garments:
    1966 = £62m
    1970 = £73m

  • Sales of synthetic fabric garments:
    1966 = £116m
    1970 = £191m 
Simon Marks, M&S Chairman in 1958 coined this slogan: 
'Easing the housewife’s daily burden'.

Eric Kann, Head of Design in 1962 said: 
'What the customer wants to buy is clothing which is at one light and warm, and easy to wear and care for and meets the increasing tendency towards informal living'. 


Polyester is a key ingredient in many synthetic blends, and is still used in lots of clothes today - just check your labels! Plastic bottles can be turned into polyester, so you might find that your fleece jacket or school trousers are actually recycled... 


Glossary:

Synthetic - man-made, not natural

Dior: French fashion designer Christian Dior 1905 -1957 

Download the M&S Fashion Timeline information sheet.

Look at the discussion and activity ideas page for details of a Fashion Show Project.



 
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