Behind the Fiber: Transforming Banana Tree Waste Into Fabric

Three women holding fabric

Banana fabric is an incredible natural, sustainable fiber made from pseudostems of the banana tree that would otherwise be discarded by the banana industry. Valani uses this unique fabric for their flowy, silky soft dresses and shirts.

As awareness grows about the negative impact of synthetic petroleum-based fibers and resource-intensive natural fabrics, sustainable brands are creating solutions by seeking out alternative fibers for their product lines. One of the exciting earth-friendly alternative fabrics making waves in the textile industry is banana fiber.

Although this fabric is seen as innovative, the fiber isn’t actually entirely “new”. Banana fiber has been in use since the 13th century in Japan. The fabric’s popularity declined with the rise of silk and cotton from China and India — but has made a strong resurgence in recent years.

Behind the Process:

Banana fiber is soft with a natural shine, frequently referred to as a vegan, a great plant-based alternative to silk, and a more sustainable alternative to cotton. The material is woven entirely from a banana tree’s “pseudo stems” and stalks.

Why stems? Since fruit can only be harvested from banana trees once in their lifetime, the “pseudo stems” of the banana tree are often discarded after the bananas are harvested from the tree, leading to massive amounts of waste.

In fact, FashionUnited reports that over a billion tons of banana tree stems are thrown away every year.

By utilizing a byproduct of the banana tree, banana fiber production is highly resource-efficient, using a widely available resource and dramatically reducing waste. Plus, selling banana stems that will be used for banana fiber provides banana farmers an extra source of income from their banana plants. Banana fiber production can provide an opportunity for additional jobs in communities that grow and harvest bananas.

A closer look at the banana tree

The majority of banana fiber is produced in the Philippine Islands, where the banana tree is an indigenous plant. Banana fiber is also produced in Ecuador, Malaysia, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, and India.

Generally, the banana fabric is made by stripping apart the sheaths of the banana stem and then processing these fibers into yarn. However, there are different methods and techniques used across the many regions where banana fabric is made.

One method is to strip off individual layers, sheath by sheath, from the stem with a knife until only the fibers remain. The fibers are then dried naturally and then knotted together using a twisting technique. 

Alternatively, banana fiber can also be processed by retting (the process of soaking the fibers in water), combing, or by using chemical extraction. 

This banana fiber — also called musa fiber — is incredibly durable. In fact, this fiber is among the strongest in the world. Banana fiber is similar to bamboo fiber, though it has a better spin ability and tensile strength. 

What’s also fascinating about banana fiber is that it can vary in weight and thickness depending on which part of the banana stem is used. Thick, sturdy fibers can be extracted from the outer sheaths and softer fibers can be taken from the inner sheaths.

Because of this versatility, banana fiber can be woven into ropes, mats, handbags, clothing, and even paper! The impressive fabric is also naturally water-resistant, fire-resistant, and tear-resistant. 

Behind the Brand Using This Fabric:

Valani is a women-owned and POC-owned business based in Chicago, Illinois, with a GOTS 6.0 certified production facility in Tamil Nadu, India. Their clothing is crafted with care — from the plant, to the factory, to the customer. They’re passionate about building a better fashion industry for everyone involved and creating dreamy, feel-good clothing everyone can enjoy.

The breathable fabric and flowy silhouettes were designed to be elegant and luxurious while keeping you cool throughout the warmer months.

This amazing, cruelty-free alternative to silk is sure to be a stunning addition to your sustainable wardrobe.

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BONUS:  Banana Leaves and Bark

Banana fibers aren’t the only ways to make use of banana byproducts. For example, banana twine is made by taking the dried leaves outside of a living banana tree and twisting and weaving the leaves until they become the perfect size. This natural and sustainable practice ensures that every part of the banana tree, including naturally dried and dying leaves that would otherwise be discarded, can be utilized to create all natural and durable baskets and trays.

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Similar to banana fabric, banana bark is also made from the outer casting of a banana stem. The material is cut using a knife or torn off from the banana stem and the strands are used while weaving or wrapping an item. Banana bark can be woven into a single-coil or pulled over multiple coils to create a smooth surface that’s optimal for decorative wall plates.

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