Neoprene is really cool! I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but I am a little bit crazy about wetsuits ;) I love the smell of a brand new wetsuit and I am in love with how I feel while I'm wearing my wetsuit. As you may know, I am the owner of the women's wetsuit company called Truli Wetsuits. When I first decided to follow my vision and get into the wetsuit business back in 2013, I had no idea about Neoprene or how a wetsuit was made, but man, did I do a ton of research. I learned all kinds of neat little facts about where Neoprene comes from and even the history of it. In this article I will summarize my findings and provide you with a synopsis of everything you have ever wanted to know about Neoprene and scuba diving wetsuits. Enjoy!
What is Neoprene?
Neoprene is super neat! I think there is a lot more to our wetsuits than we ever could have imagined. Firstly, Neoprene is actually just a trade name created by the manufacturer DuPont in 1931, which they had originally called "DuPrene". At the time, the demand for rubber in the world had increased and so DuPont, and specifically Mr. Wallace Carothers, sought to discover and create a synthetic version of rubber that could be used for industrial products.
Neoprene is made through a chemical process called polymerization using chloroprene; however, Neoprene gets its cool soft, spongy, and insulating capabilities from a procedure in which nitrogen gas is "baked" into it. The end result is a rubber foam material with tiny individual air pockets inside. There are different levels of Neoprene foams, for example, in a Truli Wetsuit, I use the "S-Foam", which is softer, stretchier and easier to put-on and take-off. But for Neoprene items that require heavy durability like kayak skirts or boots and orthopedic items, the "K-Foam" would be more appropriate.
DuPont is the original creator of Neoprene material that is widely used in wetsuits today
Some Neoprene, such as the ones used in a Truli Wetsuit, are not synthetically made, but rather manufactured from natural resources. These types of Neoprene are said to be more environmentally friendly. Truli Wetsuits uses natural rubber that comes from a rubber tree just like the rubber tree in Mia's photo on a trip to Thailand back in 2003. Using natural rubber is an alternative to the synthetic rubber most wetsuits use that are derived from petrochemicals. Other companies are creating Neoprene using properties from the world's limestone resources. As the demands for eco-friendly and green manufacturing processes grow, so does the incentive for manufacturers to explore improved ways to create Neoprene or a wetsuit fabric that is high performance and responsibly manufactured.
Mia in 2003 in Thailand inspecting how a rubber tree is tapped
Mia in 2003 in Thailand taking a look at a rubber farm
How does a Neoprene wetsuit keep scuba divers warm underwater?
Although Neoprene was created in the 1930s, it wasn't until the 50s when people started experimenting with the concept of using a layer of "rubber" to insulate them from water. It was Hugh Bradner a physicist from the University of California, Berkeley who figured out that a layer of water between your skin and the Neoprene of the wetsuit could actually keep you warm. The air pockets in the Neoprene material holds the water, which is quickly warmed by our skin, and then continues to stay warm due to the close proximity of the heat from our body, the conductive nature of water and the insulating capabilities of the Neoprene fabric. So the insulation from the suit actually functions because it is wet and thus why we call it a "wetsuit". Remember, if your wetsuit is too big, then the water will flow easily in and out of it which will never give it a chance to use your body heat to warm up - the wetsuit won't work! As well, if the wetsuit is too tight, the water won't be able to get in. You'll have the insulation from the wetsuit fabric, but it is the warmth of the water that will really keep you warm.
How is a wetsuit constructed?
So now we know about Neoprene, it is time to learn about how we put a wetsuit together!
The Neoprene foam is the core component and from there you can add various types of material to the outside and inside to create different looks, colours, feel and function. The colour components on a Truli Wetsuit, for example, are nylon or polyester material that is laminated to the outside of the Neoprene. As well, you can find a shiny material on the chest and back of a Truli Wetsuit, which is called "Glide". This material is also laminated to the core Neoprene foam. On the inside of a Truli Wetsuit, I decided to see what it would be like if it was covered in fleece. It resulted in a beautiful soft feeling next to your skin with further thermal properties keeping your core warm. This additional fleece laminated to the inside of the Truli Wetsuit results in .5mm extra thickness. The Neoprene foam is 3mm plus the fleece lining is .5mm , which equals a 3.5mm thick Truli Wetsuit.
Both the inside and outside of a Neoprene wetsuit can be laminated with other fabrics to create different looks and functions
Truli Wetsuits are lined with fleece to keep the core warm. This .5mm of extra fabric is laminated onto the core 3mm Neoprene foam
You can also find wetsuits, including a Truli Wetsuit, with unique prints. These are done with a process called sublimation, which is similar to silk-screening on a t-shirt. The Truli Wetsuit logo is sublimated onto the back of the wetsuit in silver.
The Truli Wetsuits logo is sublimated onto the Neoprene
Flatlock Stitching vs. Blind Stitching
If you've gone shopping for wetsuits, you may have come across some terminology that you may not have been familiar with. I know I did when I first decided to research how a wetsuit is made. Many wetsuit ads feature the type of stitching that is used, but what does that really mean? I am excited to tell you the difference between Blind Stitching and Flatlock Stitching because it will definitely help you determine the type of wetsuit that is best for you. In addition, the type of stitching that is used in a Truli Wetsuit is one of the things that sets this unique wetsuit design apart from all the rest, so you will definitely want to know why!
The first wetsuit prototype that I had made used Flatlock Stitching. This is the type of stitch that pretty much all average wetsuits and even rash guards use, so I figured I should go with that. You can look at a wetsuit and determine if it's Flatlocked Stitched by looking at both the inside and outside of the garment. Flatlocked Stitching threads two pieces of fabric together. Since Neoprene is thick, the 2 edges are sloped so they groove together and form a smooth flat surface on top as well as inside. The needle pokes a hole through each side through a series of stitches, which produces holes in the Neoprene that water will flow into and out of. I noticed that the Flatlock Stitching used on the first test product suffered from a lot of chafing from the BCD, so it ended up looking terrible! That's when I decided to change manufacturers and try something different.
Mia’s first prototype used Flatlock Stitching, which did not fare well on a scuba diving wetsuit due to lots of chafing
On the second prototype, my new manufacturer recommended I use Blind Stitching, which would fix the chafing from the Flatlock Stitching that occurred on the first test product I had. Blind Stitching is a lot more secure than Flatlock and requires more effort to put together, which is why you will find that wetsuits using Blind Stitching are usually a bit higher in price. Blind Stitching takes 2 pieces of Neoprene and first glues the edges directly together. In addition to that secure fastening, the pieces are additionally sewn together, but in a different way than Flatlocked Stitching. During a Blind Stitch, the needle does a stitch that enters the neoprene halfway through. This means that the needle does not puncture holes completely through the Neoprene. This results in a waterproof seal that is super strong as well as flexible. For an extra strong connection, Blind Stitching can happen from both the top and the bottom. This is the type of stitching that is now used on all of the finished Truli Wetsuit products.
The final Truli Wetsuit product is constructed using Blind Stitching as opposed to Flatlock Stitching. It is much stronger than Flatlock and it creates waterproof seams
It's a good idea, to take a peek inside a wetsuit and look at the seams. A durable and strong wetsuit like Truli Wetsuits, will have some extra security where multiple pieces of the wetsuit are joined together. As well, on any end points on the outside of the wetsuit where threading could come loose, a tiny dollop of extra glue is added to preserve the integrity of those points.
Small patches are added to the inside of all Truli Wetsuits to provide extra secure points where there are multiple points of fabric being joined together
Buying a wetsuit is a very personal experience. You should definitely ask lots of questions. I would be very happy to answer any questions that you might have about buying a wetsuit or about my Truli Wetsuits for that matter. Yours Truli, Mia@TruliWetsuits.com