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What is soy fiber?

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Soy fiber (SPF) is a natural protein regenerated fiber that is obtained from soybean waste or residue. The fibers utilise the waste produced by the agro-industry and are by-product produced during soy oil extraction and soy food products like tofu. The fiber is known for its soft feel, breathability and comfort but has a quite low strength as a result they are not commercially popular. The soy fibers are often blended with silk, cotton, cashmere, lycra and other synthetic fibers to enhance their properties.

Soybean is mainly cultivated for the food industry as a source of edible oil and protein. Soybean is believed to have first originated around 4000-5000 years ago in China. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, 346.02 million metric tonnes of soybean was produced in the year 2017-18 and it identified Brazil, Argentina and the United States as the three largest soybean-producing countries that account for 82% of world production. The single largest producer of soy fiber is China.

The very first effort to manufacture fibers from soybean protein was carried out in 1940 in Japan and the patent for the same was granted to Japanese Toshiji Kajita and Ryohei Inoue. Although the spinning process of fibers was developed by the United States and patented under the name of Huppert Oskar of Glidden Company and Robert A. Boyer of Ford Motor Company. The production of fiber began in 1939 by the Ford Motor Company which increased to three tons a week by 1942. The fiber was used for their car’s upholstery and seat filling.

However, the fiber failed to make a mark in the market due to lack of functional characteristics and soon the production declined by the end of World War II. Also, the end of the war brought the petroleum-based fibers in the textile market and owing to their low processing cost, the fibers experienced a boom. But during the last decade with increasing environmental concerns and the need to shift towards more sustainable fibers, there is a growing interest in the soybean fiber.

Several organizations such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic Content Standards and Standard 100 certification from OEKO-TEX have established certifications for soy fabrics thus authenticating it as low impact and organic fiber.

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