Fibre Focus: Banana

Choosing a fibre from a design perspective can be challenging enough, but the fibre that a fabric is made from also has numerous environmental and social impacts. It can be difficult to work out the best option when selecting a fibre.

Introducing Fibre Focus, our fabric blog that breaks down the various impacts of a fibre from an environmental, social justice and design standpoint. It is important to also consider any potential impacts a fibre might have if it were to become more popular.

Banana:

Design advantages:
• Lightweight, but strong and durable
• Absorbs and wicks away moisture from the wearer’s skin
• Versatile fibre – some parts of the plant render a silk-like yarn, and other parts produce a yarn similar to hemp or linen
• Versatile fabric – banana fabric has applications across many industries from gardening to fashion, to home wares to accessories
• Has affinity with natural and synthetic dyes
• Good surface to print on

Design disadvantages:
• The external parts of the banana are comparatively coarse compared to the soft, inner fibres. Sometimes sodium hydroxide/lye/caustic soda is used to process the outer fibres
• Banana fabric can be more expensive than similar fibres, for example silk, linen or hemp
• Banana plants take a long time to grow. Some species can take up to 9 months to grow – whereas it takes 100 days for flax to grow from seed to fibre

Environmental impacts:
• Banana fibre is natural, biodegradable and renewable
• Banana fabric can be derived from banana farm byproducts. This avoids GHG emissions through waste incineration, and is an economical use of resources used to grow the bananas
• Bananas also have many other uses in cosmetics, food, gardening and textiles
• Banana trees need lots of water to grow compared to hemp and bamboo
• Animal and cruelty-free fibre
• Banana peel can be used as a natural fertiliser in place of synthetic chemicals
• The growing process of plants uses photosynthesis which improves air quality by removing CO2 and replacing it with oxygen
• Banana trees can grow without chemical intervention
• Banana fibres can be hand processed – hand processing has no carbon emissions and pollutes no water

Social impacts:
• Provides jobs, which generate income
• The fruit is a nutritious and energy-rich food source
• Hand processing reduces the need rural-urban migration for employment
• Hand processing preserves a traditional handicraft that dates back to 13th century
• Producers of banana fabric can enjoy uncontaminated water sources
• Banana farmers can earn a second stream of income

Positive potential impact:
• Banana plantations could become more economical and use their resources to grow bananas for food, cosmetics, gardening, packaging and textiles
• Decreased dependence on chemical companies for farmers and producers
• Less non-biodegradable waste entering landfill
• Preservation of land, water and soil quality
• A wide range of fabrics on the market derived from the same plant – banana silk, banana linen, banana canvas etc

Negative potential impact:
• Job loss for chemical companies and other fibre sectors
• Increased presence of sodium hydroxide in water sources, and therefore an increased risk of disruption to aquatic life
• Increased use of fossil fuels and increased carbon emissions from importing/exporting bananas to nations where they do not grow naturally

So there you have it, a simple breakdown on banana’s various impacts that you can keep in mind when next buying, sourcing or designing.

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