Sustainable fabrics: do bananas make good t-shirts?

Sustainable fabrics made out of fruits and fruit-waste are highly innovative and developing into a viable replacement for traditional fibres, like silk and leather.

But could fruit waste be used to replace cotton? Cotton is an increasingly controversial and criticised material and for good reasons: the cotton industry creates a slur of environmental problems, with its excessive amount of water usage being the most dramatic. One single cotton t-shirt, for example, takes about 2700 litres to make. Wherever you stand on sustainability, this does not make sense.

Even more poignant is the statistic, that more than 57% of the world’s cotton production takes place in areas under high or extreme water stress. In these already dry areas, cotton farms further exacerbate the problem by draining the natural water resources - so called ‘blue’ water resources meaning water from lakes, rivers and groundwater reserves - around the cotton farms and depriving surrounding villages from drinking water.

Besides that, cotton cultivation also uses a ton of chemicals: 4% of all world pesticides and 10% of insecticides are used in cotton-growing, which are obviously bad for the environment and natural wildlife and polluter of waterways.

Some good progress is made with organic cotton, which – in addition to better soil management – is largely grown and irrigated with rainwater. Organic cotton currently represents only about 30% of global cotton production. More alternatives are clearly and urgently needed

And this is where Kimani Muturi enters with his company Texfad, founded in Uganda in 2013, making cottonlike ‘fibre’ from his country’s banana waste.

About 75% of farmers in Uganda are banana farmers, harvesting 9.8 million tons of plantain bananas (plantain bananas can’t be eaten raw like ‘our’ yellow Cavendish ones) every year. But for every ton of fruit produced, plantations leave behind TWO tons of waste – the giant stems being the main part of the problem.

Bananas grow on pseudo-stems, that only fruit once and after ‘flowering’ these stems are cut away to make room for new stems formed via the main stalk. The cut stems are left to rot or are burnt. Both of these solutions are problematic. Texfad was founded as a solution to the problem of banana waste. The company cleverly devised a way to use the banana stems to create a fibre that can be used to make rugs, placemats, pots, clothing and even hair extensions as well as create extra income for the farmers, by buying the surplus stems from them.

How does Texfad turn these stems into fibre? The banana fibre is created by cutting the stems up into celery-shaped chunks and leaving them to dry out in the sun. The dried-out pieces are then fed through an extractor, which shreds the stem into a cotton-like fibre. The shredded material is subsequently hung to dry again, until it has softened and feels like a silky yarn, a superbly soft cotton. But don’t be fooled, this material is incredibly strong and suitable for many applications. The banana fibre absorbs dye better and quicker than traditional cotton and requires much less water and land-space. And of course, all the products made are biodegradable. A near perfect circularity.

With this new fruit fibre, Texfad has not only taken us step closer towards a more sustainable (fashion) future, but the company equally strives for social impact and inclusivity by offering training programs that support young people and women in the surrounding areas. According to Kimani, “this is only the beginning. Banana fibre is the next fibre in terms of sustainability, not just for fashion, but for everything.”

Sounds like you can have your banana and wear it.

Recommended Links:


How Banana Waste Is Turned Into Rugs, Fabric, And Hair Extensions | World Wide Waste - YouTube

Is Cotton Bad For The Environment? | Sustainable Fashion