The Italian company is making circular economy fashionable, by manufacturing a new type of eco-friendly textile for high-end clothing brands from an industrial by-product — orange peel and pulp.
Over the past decades, processed food consumption has increased considerably, sending a growing amount of inedible food by-products, or food waste, to landfills. This is precisely what happens with orange juice industrial production. In Italy alone, a country that produces nearly two million tonnes of oranges per year, some 700,000 tonnes of orange juice leftovers, such as pulp and peels, goes to waste every year.
At the same time, aiming to satisfy a growing demand from eco-conscious consumers, some fashion brands are starting to turn to sustainable raw materials to create eco-friendly clothing lines. So what better way to dispose of all the orange juice by-products
Patented in 2012, the process to transform the citrus juice by-products into a silk-like fabric was the brainchild of one of the company’s co-founders, Italian fashion designer Adriana Santanocito, in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano University. Cellulose fibres are extracted from the leftovers of citrus fruit after pressing —or “pastazzo”, for Italians—, using chemical reagents, then spun into yarn that can be used to make biodegradable textiles. And since it comes virtually from the trash, the material’s manufacture does not require exploiting natural resources, thus preserving land and water and avoiding fertilizers and environmental pollution.
Together with her university colleague, Enrica Arena, Santanocito founded Orange Fiber in 2014. The first prototypes — a lace-like fabric blended with silk and another blend more similar to satin — were presented later that year at Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out, in Milan, in a bid to convince high-end fashion brands to use the newly created material — a challenge that the pair largely accomplished since then. They managed to catch the eye of Italian luxury fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, who launched the very first fashion collection of printed shirts, dresses and scarves made with the orange textile in April 2017.
The company has continued to attract global recognition from multiple organizations and fashion brands. In 2015, for instance, it received the Global Change Award 2015, an initiative launched by the H&M Foundation to promote innovative projects capable of revolutionizing fashion in a sustainable way. This year, the Swedish giant H&M included the eco-friendly fabrics in its Conscious Exclusive Collection. Last June, Neapolitan tailoring brand E. Marinella also launched an orange fibre made tie collection at Pitti Immagine Uomo 96.
With a global citrus market producing 55 million tonnes of oranges per year, Orange Fiber can only hope to scale-up its production capacity. To this end, the company recently conducted an online equity crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise at least 250,000 euros. But the initiative drew way more investments than expected, including 100,000 euros from Angels for Women — a network of business angels for women's businesses promoted by AXA Italy in collaboration with Impact Hub Milano. Having reached 650,000 euros in less than three months, the company had to close the campaign ahead of schedule. Thanks to this financial boost, Orange Fiber will be hopefully able to create a new treatment plant capable of extracting up to 60 tonnes of cellulose per year.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.