According to ancient Indian saga, the people of India got the banana plant to cover all their needs from food to clothing. The recent trend and demand for sustainable clothing made the plant’s fiber again interesting beyond its value as a fruit source. Read all about banana fiber for textiles.
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Banana (Musa paradisiaca) is one of the oldest cultivated fruits in tropical and subtropical regions. Unfortunately, many farmer just dump or burn the pseudo-stems of this 4.5 to 7.5 m tall plant as waste. Fires from biomass burning can cause health-adverse poor air quality in remote regions.
Besides food this plant provides many other product options. Among other things, the fiber from its pseudo-stem can be used to make yarn for fabrics, and finally produce textiles. The stem consists of sheathing twisting leaf bases with strong enough fibers to keep this tall herbaceous plant upright.
The plant’s fiber consists to 50 to 60% of cellulose, and 25 to 30% hemicelluloses, and 12-18% lignin, among other substances. Yarn from banana fiber is bio-degradable. Hence, it belongs to the natural cellulosic fibers like cotton, flax, jute, ramie, and hemp. More on hemp textiles.
The banana pseudo-stem has three types of fibers. Typically, the outermost layer serves for weaving because of its toughness. It serves for slacks, pants, dresses, and skirts. The middle layer serves to produce ropes, mats, and thick cloth. The innermost layer is the silkiest. Therefore, these fine fibers serve to produce T-shirts, blouses, cardigans, shawls, scarves, or undergarments.
The fine fiber looks similar to bamboo and ramie fibers, but is finer and better to spin. Pure banana fabric is light-weight, and has good fire resistance and high tensile strength. Furthermore, it has high breathability, and moisture-wicking ability. This means it absorbs and releases moisture easily. Furthermore, it has low heat retention.
Consequently, banana fiber is very suitable for apparel in hot and warm weather like in the Tropics or subtropics. More on dressing for subtropical climate.
Most of the time, banana fiber serves as blending material. It can also substitute as pulp to produce semi-natural fibers like viscose, Modal, or bamboo.
After the fruit harvest, banana trees are cut down independent of whether or there is further use for the stems. For yarn production, the stems fist have to dry before the fiber extraction. A human can extract about 800 g (28.2 oz) of fibers in an 8 hours shift.
The Indian National Institute for Inter-disciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) developed a anaerobic (= without oxygen) process for extraction of banana fibers. On the contrary, the Indian Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College – Science & Technology Entrepreneurs Park (TREC-STEP) invented a machine that separates the fibers. Obviously, these technologies are more efficient than human handwork. However, they often are unavailable and/or too expensive for farmers.
Today India is the biggest exporter. The Philippines produce small amounts for traditional clothes.
Other names are banana silk, and musa fiber. Because of the labor involved from drying, collection, extracting and sorting the fibers banana apparel is more expensive to produce than silk clothing. Therefore, in the US, banana apparel is a niche product because it’s more expensive than silk.
Because the plant has to be cut after the harvest of the fruits, and grows a new pseudo-stem, the production is sustainable. Using the pseudo-stems for textile production avoids hazardous smoke from biomass burning. The question is whether not returning nutrients by burning may in the long term degrade the quality of soils. The latter would mean that fertilizers would be needed. In this case, garments from banana fibers would no longer qualify as sustainable fashion.
Fun fact: Did you know that you need more water to grow bananas than to grow pineapple?
Fibre2Fashion, 2015. Banana Fibre: Green Apparel of the Future. Retrieved: 11/16/2022
Karimah, A. et al. , 2021. A Comprehensive Review on Natural Fibers: Technological and Socio-Economical Aspects. Polymers, 13, 4280. doi: 10.3390/polym13244280
Kevin from Sewport (2022) What is Banana Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where. Retrieved: 11/16/2022.
Mölders, N., 2023. Discover the Relation between Fashion, Fabrics, Weather, and Comfort. In press.
Mohiuddin, A.K.M., Saha, M.K., Hossian, S., and Ferdoushi, A., 2014. Usefulness of Banana (Musa paradisiaca) Wastes in Manufacturing of Bio-products: A Review. The Agriculturists, 12, 148-158.
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