6 sustainable textile innovations that will change the fashion industry


Banana, coffee, pineapple, lotus, nettle and hemp. What sounds like the ingredients on an exotic shopping list are actually all the natural resources that can be turned into sustainable textiles. The ‘How’, will be explained below; the ‘Why’ should be obvious: In view of diminishing resources, especially resource-intensive natural fibres extracted from cotton, and the environmental impact of petroleum-based fibres such as acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex, everything seems to point to the fact that it is high time for the textile industry to look for sustainable alternatives and prove that the production of textiles and clothing does not have to pollute the environment. On the contrary. To this end, FashionUnited has found six interesting alternatives.

1. Hemp fibres

One of the most versatile natural fibres can be obtained from hemp fibres, which are anti-bacterial, durable and resistant, and work like a natural air conditioning system. In addition, hemp is a fast-growing plant that consumes very little water and requires no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified seeds. “How can one not love this resource?” one might ask, and also why this super plant has not already become the standard in textile processing.

2. Nettle fibres

The common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a widely used plant that is easy to grow. For the production of the fibres, the nettles are harvested in the summer and the stems are dried well. This eliminates stinging of the fibre. After drying, the stems are broken to separate the woody parts. The plant is then brushed to separate the fibres. After that, the fibres are spun wet and then dried. By linking them together, their resistance to tearing increases.

3. Ground coffee fiber

Most coffee drinkers simply throw away the residue of the bean after preparing their drink. However, this is an important raw material that can be reused. Singtex’s Taiwanese textile technology combines post-patented processed coffee powder with polymer to create master batches before being turned into yarn. The resulting yarn is multi-functional and can be used in a variety of products, from outdoor products to sports equipment or everyday household items.

4. Pineapple fiber Piñatex

While the idea may sound incredible, there is a vegan alternative to leather, which is made from pineapple leaves. Ananas Anam, based in London, has developed a natural textile, known as Piñatex, that is remarkably similar to leather. The revolutionary fabric is made from pineapple leaf fibers, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest in the Philippines. During a process called decortication, the fibers are extracted from the leaves. The fibers then undergo an industrial process to become a non-woven fabric, which is the basis of Piñatex. A by-product of the manufacturing process is biomass, which is converted into organic fertilizer or biogas and used by the agricultural communities, thus closing the production cycle of the material.

5. Banana fiber

Banana fibre is one of the strongest natural fibres in the world. It is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable and biodegradable. The fibre consists of thick-walled cellular tissue, bound together by natural gums and is composed mainly of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Banana fiber is similar to natural bamboo fiber, but is said to have better spinning ability, fineness and tensile strength. Banana fiber can be used to make a number of different fabrics with different weights and thicknesses, based on which part of the banana stem the fiber was extracted.

6. Lotus fibers

The use of lotus fibres and fabrics may sound exotic to Western cultures, but in countries like Thailand and Myanmar, for example, lotus fibres have been used for special garments for centuries. No wonder, because the manufacturing process produces a luxurious fabric that feels like a mixture of silk and raw linen that is also stain-resistant, lightweight, soft, silky and extremely breathable. How can we not love this resource? In this case, it is the complicated and long manufacturing process, and that is the biggest obstacle to using lotus fibres.

After the lotus stems are harvested, they are cut lengthwise to extract the thin fibres. This should be done within three days of harvesting, to get the best results. The fibres are then obtained, washed and dried before being spun by hand on traditional looms. The quality of the lotus cloth is such that it has been considered for commercial use. Hero’s Fashion, based in Jaipur, India, already marks several clients with its shirts made from lotus cloth.

It is yet to see the future and find ways to market these six products in a viable and suitable way for mass production. Hemp, coffee and nettle fibres have the greatest potential for the mass market, while fabrics made from lotus and pineapple seem to be of more interest to the luxury market.

Photos: Coffee ground fibres /Singtex Industrial CO. LTD; hemp jacket/Patagonia website; Netl products via tumblr; coffee fabrics/ Singtex Industrial CO. LTD.; Piñatex; products made of banana fibres/ Green Banana Paper; lotus fabrics by Samatoa Lotus Textiles