Bananas are being used to create eco-friendly vegan silk.
Fabric made from the stalks of banana plants loved for its natural sheen and ability to mimic traditional silk has been used in Japanese and Southeast Asian cultures since the 13th century.
Versatile, banana fibre is even used for other fabrics, owing to the differentiating qualities of strands throughout the plant’s stalk. The inner strands are very fine, replicating the softness of silk, whereas the outer strands have a coarser texture and are more commonly used to mimic bamboo, linen, and hemp. Some fibres are even thick enough for basket weaving, used in consumer products like handbags.
Banana fibre is also eco-friendly and socially-conscious. According to Startup Fashion, banana plants usually do not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides. The crops are also generally produced by small-scale, family-owned farms, and the fabric produced (spun, dyed, and woven) by local communities. This supports poorer areas and enables local artisans to keep their trade and pass down the skills to the next generation.
The Rise of Vegan “Silk”
The fashion industry is experiencing a general consumer consensus in which materials like leather, fur, cashmere, and mohair are no longer desirable given the suffering they cause to animals. This move toward compassionate fashion has not neglected silkworms, who in the traditional silk-making process are boiled while dormant in their cocoons.
Several companies have developed ethical alternatives to this. Italian brand Orange Fiber makes sustainable silk from citrus fruit; it is made from the by-products of the juice industry, preventing “hundreds of thousands of tons” of scraps entering landfills. Like the real thing, the lightweight vegan silk can be produced to appear opaque or shiny, dyed or printed on, and can be used with other materials like cotton.
California-based Bolt Threads also makes Microsilk, a manmade material using yeast that replicates spider silk and can be sustainably produced on a large scale. The bioengineered silk has high-tensile strength, elasticity, durability, and softness, just like spider silk, but without the need to involve animals in the process. Cruelty-free fashion designer Stella McCartney partnered with the Silicon Valley company and exhibited a prototype shift dress she designed using the manmade silk at NewYork’s Museum of Modern Art.
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