Going Bananas for Sustainable Fashion


Most people simply throw away the banana peels without trying to utilize this useful byproduct. The global trend towards sustainable fashion is to find innovative ways to replace resource-intensive and non-renewable materials with plant-based alternatives to fibers and textiles. Let’s explore the uses of banana byproducts in the sustainable fashion industry.

Banana Waste Products

There are many ways to use banana peels and byproducts for personal care, gardening, cooking, household remedy and more. Banana peels are rich in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and B6, and fiber. There are many ways to cook meat and fish with banana peels, as well as many delicious and nutritious meals. 

However, banana by-products have many more benefits in our lives that have been forgotten and revived with the trend towards environmentally friendly and biodegradable products. Banana stems and peels are rich in fiber and have been used to make textiles in Southeast Asia for centuries. The Philippines, Japan, and Nepal have been places where banana-based textiles have been historically produced for centuries. 

In Japan, since the early 13 century, banana stalks were used to make traditional clothes such as kimonos. Today India became the world’s hub for the production of banana fabric. The country is the largest banana producer and produced 22% of the world’s banana production. 

banana peel

What is Banana Fiber?

Banana fabric is 100% organic and recyclable, therefore, eco-friendly. Banana byproducts such as stems and peels are a good source of banana fiber. It takes approximately 37 kilos of banana stems to produce 1 kilo of banana biodegradable textiles.

Banana fiber has unique chemical and physical characteristics. It is one of the strongest natural fibers and is used to replace non-biodegradable or animal-based materials. In addition to being biodegradable, banana tissue also benefits from the fact that banana fiber is lightweight, highly absorbent, water and fire-resistant.

Banana fiber has a high moisture absorption quality. Therefore, clothes made from banana fabric in summer are considered very comfortable due to their water-absorbing capacity.

However, banana fiber, which is considered almost carbon neutral, is not as strong as hemp and bamboo fibers. However, there are currently certain restrictions on what can be made from banana fibers. This prevented some companies from producing more mainstream fashion clothing like t-shirts, trousers, and so on.

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How is Banana Fiber Produced?

Banana fiber, also called musa fibre, is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. The biodegradable natural fiber from the stem of the banana tree is incredibly durable. Fiber is composed of thick-walled cellular tissue connected by natural gums and is basically made out of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Banana fiber is like regular bamboo fiber, yet its spinning ability, fineness, and elasticity are considered better. 

Banana fiber can be used to make a variety of fabrics of varying weights and thicknesses, depending on which part of the banana stem the fiber was taken from. The quality of the fiber made from the stem varies, so it can be used to make different types of banana fabrics

The thicker and stronger fibers come from the outer shell of the banana tree, so they can be used to make baskets, handbags, ropes, mats, woven fabrics as well as handmade papers. The inner fibers produced from the inner shell are fine and smooth and are used to produce delicate and soft fabrics such as silk. 

Apparel-grade banana fiber is commercially produced in India from banana stems. The natural fiber is made from the stem of a banana and then tucked in with a thread so that the fabric is fully ready for use.

Bananatex was the first fiber produced in collaboration between the Swiss company QWSTION and Taiwanese yarn specialists from a sustainable plantation in the Philippines. The company has a circular production, ranging from the extraction of fiber from abaca banana plants to fully biodegradable products.

banana textile

Environmental impact of the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world. About 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, that is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, and 20 % of the world’s wastewater comes from the fashion industry.

As the fashion business moves into the future when material supplies are limited, commonly used fibers such as cotton, which is a water-intensive material, and oil-based fibers such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex remain highly popular. The production of these fibers is harmful to the environment.

Banana production is damaging to the environment and includes the use of agrochemicals, water pollution, deforestation, destruction of animal habitats, child labor, and low-wage labor.

Since bananas are one of the foremost popular fruits in the world, over 100 billion bananas are consumed annually.  Bananas are harvested two to four times a year, and the stems are usually cut and discarded as waste. Over a billion tons of banana tree stems are thrown away annually.

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Sustainable Fashion Companies Go Bananas

The global trend towards sustainable fashion is to find innovative ways to replace these materials with sustainable alternatives to fibers and textiles. An increasing number of companies are looking for sustainable alternatives. Designers are switching to plant-based materials because they are eco-friendly and affordable.  This approach can help reduce the impact of non-renewable and material-intensive production.

The Future Fabrics Expo in London showcased the best of environmentally friendly textiles. The exhibition was organized by Nina Marenzi, the founder of The Sustainable Angle (2010) aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry. In addition, the exhibition showed plant-based alternatives in order to replace cotton and oil-based polyester. 

Plant-based companies and start-ups, that use agricultural waste, are booming since the emergence of new innovations in this area. Banana fiber producing start-up Green Whisper plans to cooperate with fashion companies in the US, Asia, and France.

A new start-up Circular Systems company produces natural fabrics from banana by-products, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and flax and hemp stalk. Fashion brands such as H&M and Levi’s are planning to partner with Circular Systems to make new garments from these sustainable fibers.

Green Banana Paper company founded by Matt Simpson in Micronesia produces locally made banana fiber from waste. Banana waste and byproducts purchased from farmers provide them an additional source of income.

In addition to banana by-products, other natural resources are used to make natural fabrics, such as pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, flax, and hemp stalks. Many fruits such as apple peel, grape pulp, and oranges are also considered a source of natural fiber.

Sustainable fabrics and sustainable fashion have a positive impact on society and the environment, including the carbon footprint of textiles, without harming the environment.

Author: EcoDesign&EcoLifestyle

Researcher, entrepreneur, and artist at heart.

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