A Sus­tain­able Fash­ion Choice: Ba­nana Fibre

the In­dian tex­tile in­dus­try

Apparel - - CONTENTS OCTOBER 2018 -

The need for sus­tain­able, biodegrad­able al­ter­na­tives is at its peak now more than ever. Peo­ple are be­com­ing more aware and con­scious of wh­what they buy, what they wear, and how it would im­pact Mother Na­ture. The In­dian tex­tile in­dus­try too is adapt­ing to these changes and is llook­ing for al­ter­na­tives to waste-pro­duc­ing, non-re­new­able ma­te­ri­als. Act­ing as a sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive in the tex­tile in­dus­try, ba­nana fibre is carv­ing its niche slowly but steadily.

Ba­nana fab­ric, and tex­tiles de­rived from ba­nana fi­bres, has been around for cen­turies in the Ja­panese and South­east Asian cul­tures. But it’s only now that we have tapped into its true po­ten­tial. This cru­elty-free, beau­ti­ful, silk­like fab­ric has unique char­ac­ter­is­tics, mak­ing it the most ver­sa­tile fab­ric for the fash­ion in­dus­try.

WHAT IS BA­NANA FIBRE?

Ba­nana fibre, as the name sug­gests, is ob­tained from the ba­nana plant–the de­li­cious fruit bearer. This nat­u­ral fibre is ex­tracted from the pseu­dostem of the ba­nana plant or the plan­tain plant. Nat­u­ral fi­bres have dis­tinct ad­van­tages such as low density, high disposability and renewability. This nat­u­rally makes them re­cy­clable and biodegrad­able, mak­ing ba­nana fibre a strong con­tender as a re­new­able re­source for the tex­tile in­dus­try. The ba­nana plant is avail­able through­out South­east Asia, In­dia, Bangladesh, Hawaii and some Pa­cific is­lands.

While the fine­ness of the in­ner strands al­lows the fibre to repli­cate silk, the vari­a­tion in the qual­ity of the fi­bres can lead to the pro­duc­tion of a range of tex­tiles. For ex­am­ple, the outer strands are much coarser, mak­ing them a great sub­sti­tute for bam­boo, hemp or linen.

CHAR­AC­TER­IS­TICS

The ver­sa­til­ity of this nat­u­ral fibre can be ac­cred­ited to its many unique phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. Ba­nana fibre is highly strong, has smaller elon­ga­tion and is light­weight and eco-friendly in na­ture. It has bet­ter fine­ness and abil­ity to spin than other nat­u­ral fi­bres such as bam­boo fibre (av­er­age fine­ness is 2400 nm). The chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of ba­nana fibre is cel­lu­lose, hemi­cel­lu­lose, and lignin. More­over, it has strong mois­ture ab­sorp­tion and re­lease qual­i­ties, mak­ing it a ver­sa­tile fibre for blend­ing fab­rics. Ad­di­tion­ally, due to its un­pre­dictable for­ma­tion, it can be spun through al­most all the meth­ods of spin­ning such as ring spin­ning, ope­nend spin­ning and semi-worsted spin­ning.

NAT­U­RAL FI­BRES HAVE DIS­TINCT AD­VAN­TAGES SUCH AS LOW DENSITY, HIGH DISPOSABILITY AND RENEWABILITY.

FROM FIBRE TO FAB­RIC

The process of ex­tract­ing ba­nana fi­bres is sim­ple, and more im­por­tantly, a sus­tain­able and ecofriendly one. As most ba­nana plants grow in trop­i­cal ar­eas, in the olden days, they were not sprayed with fer­tilis­ers or pes­ti­cides. They were mostly cul­ti­vated on farm­ers’ lands and turned into fi­bres by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, mak­ing the process hi­er­ar­chi­cally passed down.

Ear­lier, the process of ex­tract­ing the fi­bres was te­dious and time-con­sum­ing. But thanks to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, cus­tomised ma­chines are de­signed to get this job done ef­fi­ciently, with­out caus­ing any pre­ma­ture break­age or dam­age to the nat­u­ral fi­bres. For ex­tract­ing the fibre, the ba­nana stem is cleaned and placed on a ma­chine which con­sists mainly of two hor­i­zon­tal beams, whereby a car­riage with a cus­tom comb moves back and forth. This step is fol­lowed by clean­ing and dry­ing of the later un­der­go­ing the lam­i­na­tion process. The next step in­volves pro­cess­ing the fibre through yarn spin­ning, fol­lowed by the nor­mal weav­ing process used by ar­ti­sans to weave most fab­rics. De­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety and the ex­trac­tion method used, a fresh ba­nana plant yields about 0.6 per cent to 1 per cent of fibre, which re­sults in a beau­ti­ful, shiny, nat­u­ral fab­ric.

MULTIFACETED AND SUS­TAIN­ABLE

The fash­ion in­dus­try is the sec­ond largest waste pro­ducer in the world. Al­ter­na­tives like the ba­nana fab­ric are on the path of be­com­ing its sav­ing grace. As it is nat­u­rally de­rived, ba­nana fibre is re­new­able and com­postable. Its var­i­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics make it el­i­gi­ble to be con­sid­ered as an al­ter­na­tive for a whole lot of wastepro­duc­ing, non-re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als.

Tra­di­tion­ally, ba­nana fibre was pri­mar­ily used for mak­ing ropes, mats, bas­kets and such. How­ever, due to its light­weight na­ture, it is the best al­ter­na­tive for mak­ing ap­parel, espe­cially for a hot cli­mate like ours. Other mul­ti­ple uses of this fibre in­clude us­ing it in home fur­nish­ings such as cov­ers, table­cloths, cur­tains and rugs. Fur­ther, due to its high cel­lu­lose and low lignin con­tent, it is now be­ing used in the pa­per in­dus­try to pro­duce tis­sue pa­per, fil­ters, cof­fee bags and meat cas­ings.

While ba­nana fibre does have a mi­nor draw­back of high ir­reg­u­lar­ity due to the mul­ti­cel­lu­lar na­ture of the fi­bres, this too acts as its strength as it com­bines well with other fi­bres. Ba­nana fibre can be com­bined with cot­ton or vis­cose fibre to cre­ate blended fab­ric. Be­ing a plant-ori­gin nat­u­ral prod­uct, it has ex­cel­lent com­pat­i­bil­ity with other nat­u­ral fi­bres such as cot­ton, jute and pineap­ple fi­bres in blend­ing. and printed eas­ily. An­other in­ter­est­ing prop­erty of these fi­bres is that they do not crum­ple eas­ily, mak­ing them an ex­cel­lent ma­te­rial for mak­ing dresses, wed­ding gowns, saris and trousers.

A BOON FOR THE IN­DIAN AP­PAREL IN­DUS­TRY

In­dia is a trop­i­cal coun­try and the sec­ond largest ba­nana pro­ducer in the world. This gives us the great­est ad­van­tage over other coun­tries in ob­tain­ing the ba­nana fi­bres on a large scale, with­out any ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tion. How­ever, even though we grow ba­nana plants all round the year, we haven’t been able to fully utilise this valu­able re­source and most of it is dis­carded as waste. Ad­di­tion­ally, the pro­duc­tion of ba­nana fab­ric is a long process and re­quires am­ple man­power, which pro­vides em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to thou­sands of peo­ple in In­dia.

Sus­tain­able fash­ion has gained mo­men­tum in the In­dian in­dus­try in re­cent times and the de­mand for it is in­creas­ing. Many small and big fash­ion la­bels and de­sign­ers aree cre­at­ing sus­tain­able cloth­ing lines us­ing ba­nana fab­ric. More­over, the fibre is biodegrad­able and eco-friendly com­pared to the more com­monly used syn­thetic fi­bres, mak­ing it more ap­peal­ing to the new set of en­vi­ron­ment-con­scious de­sign­ers.

To­day, ba­nana fab­ric is mainly used by high-end ap­parel brands which serve only a se­lect few in the coun­try. This fab­ric will prove to be a boon to our in­dus­try only when the pro­duc­tion cost re­duces and the fab­ric can be made avail­able to the masses at af­ford­able rates. Not­with­stand­ing, a lot of lo­cal com­pa­nies are find­ing mul­ti­ple uses of this fibre and cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful ac­ces­sories, hand­i­crafts, hand­made pa­per and home fur­nish­ing items.

Once con­sid­ered an in­fe­rior ma­te­rial, ba­nana fibre has come a long way and has emerged as a strong can­di­date among the sus­tain­able and re­new­able re­sources for the fash­ion and tex­tile in­dus­try. How­ever, In­dia has miles to go be­fore it can thor­oughly utilise ev­ery piece of this mar­vel­lous plant to move to­wards a more sus­tain­able, waste-free in­dus­try.

BA­NANA FIBRE CAN BE COM­BINED WITH COT­TON OR VIS­COSE FIBRE TO CRE­ATE BLENDED FAB­RIC.

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