Bananas, coffee, pineapple, lotus, stinging nettles and hemp - what sounds like the ingredients on an exotic shopping list are actually all natural resources that can be turned into sustainable textiles.

1. Hemp fibres

Hemp fibres

One of the most versatile natural fibers can be obtained from hemp - hemp fibers, which are antibacterial, durable and resilient, and work as a natural air-conditioning system. In addition, hemp is a fast-growing plant that consumes very little water and does not require herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. 'What's not to love?' one could ask, and also why this super plant has not already become the standard in textile processing.

The reason is the connection of the Cannabis Sativa plant with recreational drugs. Even though the only high that the production and use of industrial hemp generates is the knowledge of doing something for the environment, cultivation has been severely hampered, especially in the western world. The situation is different in China, where the industrial use of the cannabis plant was never prohibited. Thus, China currently accounts for more than 50 percent of the global hemp production and holds more than half of the more than 600 international patents on hemp fibers and textile production. This needs to change.

2. Stinging nettle fibres

Stinging nettle fibres

The common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is a widely used plant that is easy to grow. For the production of the fibers, the nettles are harvested in the summer and the stalks dried well. This removes the sting. After drying, the stalks are broken to separate the woody parts. Then, the plant is hackled to separate the fibers and to remove the leaf attachments. After that, the fibers are spun wet and then dried. Twisting them increases tear resistance.

Similar to hemp fibres, stinging nettle fibres are versatile, keep the wearer warm in winter and cool in summer, and can be grown with far less water and pesticides than cotton.

Thanks to new spinning techniques and hybrid plant species, nettle plants with super high fiber content are obtained, which are strong and flexible and have a good spinning length. Unlike hemp, there is no legal problem with the cultivation of nettles, which has made the plant a viable and legal market fruit.

3. Coffee ground fibres

Coffee ground fibres

Fabrics made out of coffee ground fibres like S.Café by Singtex shown here offer excellent natural anti-odour qualities, in addition to UV ray protection and a quick drying time. The coffee grounds used to create the yarn are taken and recycled from some of the world’s largest coffee vendors, like Starbucks. In this way, the company gives a second life to coffee grounds which would have otherwise ended up in the trash. As we have seen, coffee ground fibres have many advantages. Now, the challenge remains in taking the fibre global and ensuring more apparel brands incorporate it into their collections in lieu of conventional fabrics and that it extends its reach to outside of the fashion industry.

4. Banana fibres

Banana fibres

Banana fibre is one of the world’s strongest natural fibres. It is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable and biodegradable. The fibre consists of thick-walled cell tissue, bonded together by natural gums and is mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. 

Banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fibre, but its spin ability, fineness and tensile strength are said to be better. Banana fibre can be used to make a number of different textiles with different weights and thicknesses, based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was extracted from.

5. Lotus fibres

Lotus fibres

Using lotus fabrics and textiles may sound exotic to western ears, but in countries like Thailand and Myanmar, for example, lotus fibers have been used for special garments for centuries. Not surprisingly because the manufacturing process produces a luxurious fabric that feels like a mixture of silk and raw linen that is also stain-resistant, light weight, soft, silky and extremely breathable. 

'What's not to love?' one may ask again. In this case, it is the complicated and lengthy manufacturing process that is the biggest hurdle when using lotus stems.

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