Banana is rightly called Kalpataru, a likening to an ancient fruit cultivated all over the world.

 

India is the world's largest banana producer with an annual output of 24.8 million tonnes followed by China, Philippines, Ecuador and Brazil. India accounts for 22 per cent of the global banana production. Apart from providing textiles, banana fibre production provides employment opportunities to thousands of poor people in India.

 

Bananas are harvested two to four times a year and the stems are usually cut and thrown away as waste. Banana fibre is also a major substitute to the pulp industry. With so many beneficial characteristics, this fibre is gaining popularity in the fashion industry as many renowned clothing lines and fashion designers are embracing fabric made from banana. Moreover, the fibre is eco-friendly and biodegradable compared to other synthetic fibres.

 

Give me more: Uses and demand of banana fibre

Every part of the banana plant can be used. Banana leaves are used as bio-plates for serving food and the fruit and spadix can be consumed. The innermost part of the stem, also edible, is used for medicinal purposes. This plant has been a source of high quality textiles for ages so banana fibre is not a new discovery but certainly a unique one. The Japanese have been processing banana fibres for almost 800 years so they have achieved expertise in making banana clothing. Nepalese weavers have been making beautiful and luxurious rugs from banana fibre.

 

In the past, the use of banana fibre was limited. It was chiefly used for making mats, ropes and some composite products. With increasing awareness and growing importance of sustainable products, banana fibres have been increasingly used in making apparel, paper, footwear, handbags and home furnishings. In Japan, banana fibre is used for making traditional kimono and kamishimo dress. In Japan, people still prefer to wear dresses made from banana fabric as summer wear.

 

The banana plant, commonly found in hot tropical regions, grows easily without any chemicals or pesticides. All kinds of banana plants are abundant in fibre. The fibres are obtained from the stem of the banana plant after the fruit is harvested. Banana fibre is also used to produce curtains, bags, cushion covers, neck ties etc. Nepalese hand-knotted banana silk fibre rugs are made from bleached and dried banana fibres. These rugs are renowned all over the world.

 

Currently, banana fibre is widely used as blending material in the textile sector. There's a high demand for it in countries like United States of America, Malaysia, Korea, European Union and Philippines. Japan's currency, the Yen, is made out of banana fibre. So, exporting banana fibre will bring substantial foreign exchange to India. A proper coordination with manufacturing units and exporting countries needs to be established and there is no doubt that this sector will bring a revolution.

 

Wearing bananas? What banana fabric is like

Banana fabric is beautiful, animal-free textile with a natural sheen that replicates real silk and is a great choice for sustainable and eco-friendly textile. The quality of the fibre inside the stem varies and hence it can be used to produce different types of fabrics. The inner fibres of the stem are very fine and smooth, and have a natural shine. They are used to produce smoothest textiles like kimonos and saris. The outer strands are coarse hence they can be used for basket weaving and making handbags. Banana fibre has a high moisture absorption quality. The water is absorbed and released quickly. In summers, a shirt made from banana fabric is considered very comfortable due to its quality of water absorption.

 

It is difficult to imagine silk-like softness and elasticity from the banana stem. However, it is easy to process and create a silk-like fabric with banana fibres. Therefore, many designers and banana fabric manufacturers opt for banana fabric due to its lustre, affordability and eco-friendliness. There are very few fabrics in the textile industry which can be used for fire resistance clothing and manufactured at low cost, and banana fabric is one of them.

 

Getting it going: Banana fibre extraction

Earlier, banana fibre was extracted through a complicated and slow manual process. The stem covering is scrapped by a metal scrapper and the fibre is separated. The National Institute for Inter-disciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) in India developed a technology to extract banana fibre which involves an anaerobic (without oxygen) process. Enzymes produced in an anaerobic reactor are used to separate the fibres. Once the process of separation of fibres gets completed the fibres are then washed and dried in sunlight. The fibre thus obtained is pure white in colour. NIIST claims that this process is low-cost, pollution-free and does not damage fibres. The banana fibre extracting machine will be promoted among poor farmers and small rural entrepreneurs.

 

The traditional process of banana fibre is set to change with the invention of the banana fibre separator machine. The machine has been developed by Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College - Science & Technology Entrepreneurs Park (TREC-STEP) in India. One of the fascinating features of this machine is that it uses agriculture waste of banana harvest to produce silk-like fibres. These fibres are of great help to the handicraft and textile industry. With the new innovation, what was earlier considered to be agricultural waste is now used to produce good quality silk-like fibre yarn.

 

Eco-friendly fabric of the future

Fabric made from banana fibre can be termed as the next green apparel of the future. Recently, researchers of Clothing and Textile department at MS University, Baroda (Gujarat) designed woven and nonwoven fabric from the banana fibre. According to the researchers, the fabric can be cheaper than cotton and linen if it is produced in large scale. Fabrics made from these fibres have good shine, are light weight, have quick moisture absorption quality and look similar to linen. It can work as an environment friendly substitute to many popular fabrics.

 

Fashion experts in Philippines have been promoting eco-friendly fashion and endorsing the use of abaca and banana fibres as alternative to the conventional fabrics for experimental clothing and fashion accessories. These fibres are more sustainable and are completely biodegradable and do not use chemicals or pesticides to cultivate them.

 

"With increasing developments and innovations in the world of fashion, there is a need for us to conserve the environment, and look for sustainable eco-friendly fabric. So, they are good for people, and for the environment," says designer Varun Bahl.

 

Designer Shruthi Sancheti believes that the recent environmental turbulence has made people realise the need to be environmentally responsible and accept eco-friendly fabrics. Designer Anavila Mishra observes that sustainable fabrics made from hemp, bamboo, soy and banana are increasingly developed to be used at large.

 

Everyone is aware of environmental hazards caused from the cultivation of conventional cotton. However, its demand in the global textile industry has not been affected. Research indicates that a billion tonnes of banana plant stems are wasted every year. According to the Philippine Textile Research Institute, banana plantations in Philippines alone can generate more than 3,00,ooo tonnes of fibre. Banana fabric is not the first alternative to some of the polluting and high intensity processed fabrics. However, adding fruit to the already expanding list of sustainable fabrics like hemp, bamboo etc is a noteworthy development.

 

Eco-friendly fabrics and sustainable fashion take care of the social and ecological impact including carbon footprints from textile production. The aim of eco-friendly fashion is to develop a way for people to use the natural resources without damaging the environment.

 

References:

1.      Busiweek.com

2.      Li-fei.com

3.      Ecogreenunit.org

4.      Hindustantimes.com

5.      Theweekendleader.com

6.      Teonline.com

7.      Thehindu.com

8.      Ecogreenunit.org

 

Image Courtesy:

ilpiccolodpiu.it