Banana Fibre for Sustainable Fashion and Beyond

Banana Fibre for Sustainable Fashion and Beyond

It is astonishing to contemplate the versatility of the banana plant. Almost every part of the plant has a unique utility. Banana is well known as food, fruit, and fodder crop. Its leaves are an integral part of our tradition and culture and have excellent medicinal properties. After the fruit is harvested, the "pseudo stem" (trunk portion) is thrown out as agricultural waste. This pseudo stem biomass is a rich source of natural fibres, which when utilized, can generate profits by offering multiple products like pickles, fertilizers, compost, textiles, and many more.

India, being the largest producer of banana in the world with an estimated annual output of 13.5 million tons, has immense potential to utilize these assets of the plant. Around 80% of banana crop is generated majorly from six states, namely, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Thus, the plant is of great economic importance.

The origin of banana fibres and textiles

Image 1 - Banana tree and banana fabric

Banana fabric is a great vegan alternative that has properties imitating silk. The fibre material comes from the stalk or trunk portion called the “pseudo stem” of the banana plant. While it is certainly a unique idea, it is not new. The textile made of banana fibre has been used in Japanese and Southeast Asian cultures as early as the 13th century. The fact that Hindu mythology described the banana tree as Kalpa Vrikshya - a plant that gives us food, medicines, shelter and, clothing- it can be inferred that garment preparation from its fibres were known. Perhaps it became unpopular due to discoveries of other spinnable fibres. Thus, this neglected fibre available all over India in abundance can give us garments of high fashion.

How is a banana textile made?

Image 2- Banana fibre extraction and weaving fabric using banana fibre

Following are the steps describing how the banana fabric is manufactured -
Step 1: Harvesting the pseudo stem and peeling
The fruit is harvested followed by cutting the pseudo stem. The outer brown-green skin of the pseudo stem is peeled off to retain a clear white inner trunk portion.

Step 2: Extraction
To extract the fibre the sheath of the white pseudo stem is peeled off. Each series of leaf sheath produces different grades of fibre. Extraction is done by extractor machines composed of either non-serrated or serrated knife. The peel is clamped between two wooden planks and manually pulled under the knives. The mechanism is similar to the machine that extracts sugarcane juice. Another way of extraction can be soaking the sheaths in chemical softeners and then manually peeling off the fibres.

Step 3: Drying
Extracted fibres are sun-dried which further whitens the fibre.

Step 4: Grouping and knotting
Once dried, the fibres are segregated according to the fibre sizes and grouped. These fibres are then knotted to the end of other fibres manually. The knotting continues until a long continuous strand is obtained.

Step 5: Twisting
These strands are spun on the hand spinning machine to insert the desired twist and reinforced the yarn for weaving.

Step 6: Weaving
The spun yarns are set up on handlooms and fabrics are weaved. The yarns (untwisted ) can also be used for handicrafts.

Properties of banana fibre
Banana fibre has its own physical and chemical characteristics and many properties that make it a fine quality fibre, some of them are-
  1. The appearance of banana fibre is similar to that of Bamboo fibre and ramie fibre.
  2. It is biodegradable and has no adverse effect on the environment and thus can be categorized eco-friendly.
  3. The chemical composition of banana fibre is cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin.
  4. It has strong moisture absorption quality. It absorbs as well as releases moisture very fast.
  5. It has a somewhat shiny appearance depending upon the extraction.
  6. Its average fineness is 4 to 15 tex.
  7. It is a strong yet lightweight with smaller elongation properties.
  8. The banana fibre is resistant to the action of alkali, phenol, formic acid, chloroform acetone, and petroleum ether. It is soluble in hot, concentrated sulphuric acid.
  9. The lignin content of banana fibre is less than jute.
  10. It is alkali proof and has good receptivity for the dyes
  11. Banana fibres can easily blend with other natural fibres for enhanced performance and properties. For example- 
    1. Cotton(warp) banana(weft) 60:40 blend fabrics are more durable than pure cotton fabric. They also show higher crispness value, which makes it suitable for summer wear fabric in all three categories- menswear, womenswear, and kidswear. Cotton banana blend fabric does not pose any unavoidable obstacle for the sewability of the fabric as well.
    2. Cotton rayon (warp) banana (weft) blend is aesthetically appealing as it possesses a rich natural lustre. The apparels have good strength characteristics, are wearable with lining, and are suitable for top garments. The fibres take up dyes evenly.
    3. 30:30:40 blend of banana: cotton: silk is used for making premium silk saris

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