A Sustainable Fashion Choice: Banana Fibre
the Indian textile industry
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.
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.