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Textiles Shaping A More Sustainable Future

Innovation in the textile industry not only heralds good news for the planet, it may also change the way you look at the items on your kitchen counter for good.

By Tanja Wessels
October 18, 2021

How can we keep loving and enjoying fashion whilst growing increasingly aware of the industry’s environmental impact? Hong Kong alone sends an average of 392 tonnes of textile waste to landfill per day, an estimated 50% of that in the form of clothing.

While designer Vivienne Westwood’s famous phrase “Buy less, choose well, make it last” certainly rings true, the fashion industry’s much needed overhaul is going to need all hands on deck to steer the style ship towards a better horizon.

Textile design, integral part to a garment’s lifespan, is a key opportunity. Material innovation is not only proving important for mitigating resource depletion and waste, it is also taking creative problem-solving to the next level.


When life gives you pineapples…well, if your name is Dr. Carmen Hijosa you make Piñatex, a natural leather alternative made from pineapple leaf cellulose fibres.

On a job in the Philippines in the 90’s, the leather goods expert sought to find an alternative to leather’s destructive environmental impact. Inspired by the traditional weaving of plant fibres, she spent years developing a textile made from an agricultural waste product. The pineapple industry globally produces 40,000 tonnes of pineapple leaves waste each year, which is usually left to rot or is burned.

With Piñatex, Hijosa created a scalable commercial product that works with developing farming communities and that has a minimal impact on the environment.

Fibres are extracted from the leaves, which are then washed and left to dry in the sun. The result is a fluff-like material which is then mixed with a corn-based polylactic acid before undergoing a mechanical process to create Piñafelt, the base of all Piñatex products.

Piñatex is a versatile and much-loved textile used by a number of brands worldwide – including Hugo Boss and H&M – and in a range of industries, from fashion and accessories to upholstery.

Photo: Ferragamo


What can you do with a pile of orange peels? Turns out, quite a lot.

In 2014 Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena transformed “pastazzo” (a juice industry byproduct) into a fibre so fine, Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo used it in their 2017 fashion collection.

Their company, Orange Fibre, developed a silk-like yarn by extracting citrus cellulose that can be spun into a soft and luxurious cellulose fabric. Biodegradable and lightweight, the yarn can be blended with other materials and take on an opaque or shiny finish, depending on the design needs of the garment.

Photo: Orange Fiber x H&M Conscious

Orange Fibre’s technology patent, in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano University, hit the Italian sustainability sweet spot of textile excellence as well as food heritage. No small feat, given that Italy produces 1 million tonnes of citrus fruit pastazzo a year. The wet residue at the end of citrus juice’s industrial production had no viable disposal alternative and was treated as waste.

Until Orange Fibre put it on the international fashion map that is. From working with luxury names such as Salvatore Ferragamo, to everyday brands such as H&M, Orange Fibre has made orange the new black.


The only thing possibly better than using organic waste as a resource, is using a whole range of it at once. Think wheat, rice, corn, pineapple leaves, banana trunks, oilseed hemp and oilseed flax. Agraloop BioFibre is made by converting these crop left-overs into high-value resources for the fashion industry.

US materials science company Circular Systems developed an innovative technology that recycles waste that is often burned or left to rot. Using a specialized wet processing technique, Agraloop transforms left-overs into a refined 100% natural fibre that is blended with other natural fibres – including recycled organic cotton and Tencel Lyocell which is extracted from sustainably sourced natural wood.

The natural properties of the leaf fibres that go into Biofibre make for a strong yarn that stays fresh, prevents the growth of microbes, and stays cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cool (in the same way silk and wool do).

Used in knit and woven textiles for clothing, footwear, accessories and upholstery, Biofibre is in demand with fast fashion and sportswear brands as well as luxury fashion houses. In 2019, it made its debut at the Global Change Awards, in the form of a hemp Biofibre and silk gown by &Other Stories worn by Vogue India’s Fashion Features Director and sustainable activist, Bandana Tewari. In December 2020, H&M launched its first H&M Conscious Exclusive collection using the fibre. (Agri) crop couture may well be underway.