BEHIND THE SCENES

Feeling Fruity? So are these fabrics

By Rosanna Campbell-Gray

Cotton is the most widespread non-food crop in the world and is believed to be the largest agricultural consumer of water. According to the WWF, ‘approximately half of all textiles are made from cotton’ and the industry employs a staggering 7% of all labor in developing countries. Although the fabric is biodegradable, at the current level of production, is cotton sustainable?

In view of the growing demand for fashion, cotton production is set to rise, eating into natural habitats and putting further pressure on our natural resources and fragile ecosystems. Poor land management has caused soil degradation and the vast amounts of pesticides and fertilizers used to meet the demands of the fashion industry are contaminating water sources and causing loss of biodiversity. 

Luckily for us, the future is fruitful, as fashion and science come together to create the next generation of sustainable textiles, from vegetable fibres to pineapple leather. 

Bananas for Bananatex

Collaboration lies at the heart of Bananatex, the first technical material made from banana stalks in the Philippines. The natural fibres are harvested from Abaca trees, a species of inedible banana which has long been used for its lasting natural fibres. In fact, the binomial name of the Abaca tree is Musa textilis. Spearheading Bananatex is Swiss bag company QWSTION who worked alongside the farmers in the Philippines and their yarn mill in Taiwan in order to create the ideal sustainable product. Their aim was to create a sturdy material with ‘a positive impact on the planet’s future’ and most importantly, an alternative to the petroleum-based materials which are so commonly used in manufacturing bags. The trees require no fertilizers, don’t grow in monocrops, and are fully biodegradable. Speaking about Bananatex, QWSTION’s co-founder Christian Kagi explains how they have “created a material whose potential is greater than us”.

Orange Fiber

Innovation meets Italian elegance. Founded by Italian friends and students Adriana Santonocito and Enrica Arena in 2014, the idea of creating an eco-responsible material stemmed from the discovery that 700,000 tons of orange peel in Italy alone goes to waste every year post juice extraction. 

The pair set to work in creating a fabric that would meet the demands of fashion’s future: Orange Fiber. Cellulose is extracted from discarded orange skins or the ‘pastazzo’ (citrus waste) and the resulting product is a lightweight silk-like sustainable fabric that can be made naturally opaque or shiny to meet the needs of their buyers.

Ferragamo was the first luxury brand to collaborate with Orange Fiber, launching a capsule collection to celebrate the 47th edition of Earth Day. The designs and patterns are closely intertwined with the fabric itself, inspired by southern Italy and its abundance of citrus groves. 

Piñatex

The proof of Pinatex’s success as an alternative to leather is visible through the high-profile brands with whom they have collaborated. From fast-fashion multinational H&M to high-end Hugo Boss, the brands investing in pineapple’s byproduct are growing. In fact, a quick search of #MadeFromPiñatex will lead you down a rabbit-hole of pineapple leather and felt goods.

The plant-based material is made from pineapple leaves in the Philippines, a natural waste product of the agricultural harvest. The fibres are extracted and sun-dried before being shipped to Spain or Italy for finishing. Pinatex provides developing farming communities with additional commercial opportunity with minimal environmental impact or investment required. A Circular Economy and Cradle to Cradle values are of utmost importance to the founder, Dr. Carmen Hijosa’s.

Vegea 

Milan-based company Vegea made their entrance into the alternative textile industry in 2016 with their sustainable vegan leather. Developed using the waste products from Italian wineries, the company’s aim was to create a plant-based material that was both sturdy and maniable, suitable for fashion and furniture. Even Bentley have collaborated with them for their sleek automobile interiors. Since their creation in 2016, Vegea have expanded to use other vegetable waste and agricultural byproducts, many of which were disposed of through incineration. Is this the wine-lovers answer to sustainable leather? We think it could be! 

If the next generation of plant-based materials continue to be managed sustainably and efficiently, their benefits could answer the needs of fashion’s future. The materials come at a financial cost due to their novelty and sometimes lengthy production methods, however, the companies pioneering the fruit fabric revolution have more than profit in mind. Fair wages and good working conditions are as important to them as the environmental footprint, and whilst they are providing natural, low-impact alternatives to products requiring high levels of toxic intervention, they are also providing waste management and commercial opportunities for low-income communities. 

All this talk has got us feeling kind of fruity.  

“Design is not just about product. Design is about responsibility.”

- DR CARMEN HIJOSA

Rosanna Campbell-Gray

Rosanna is Content Director at Talia Collective. Having worked in a leading  travel PR agency in London, she is currently heading up the editorial side of our platform whilst volunteering with the US-based NGO Sustainable Travel International, assisting with new media campaigns related to carbon offset programs.

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