Silk-like fabric can be made from oranges. This innovative project “orange-fiber” seemed to be a crazy idea of two young university friends, Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena from Sicily. Their native island is the heart of traditional orange production and Santanocito wondered how to recycle annually-produced 700,000 tons of orange-waste. The project was started in 2012. The Orange Fiber project recycles the leftover orange waste and transforms it into silk-like, soft, drapey, light fabric.
Arena says, “Everything was so difficult. We use only wastes but also it was a period when many Sicilian producers were having difficulty in selling oranges. People preferred cheaper uniform industrial oranges."
The innovative start-up project was aimed at creating sustainable textiles. Santanocito aspired to become a fashion designer and she shared the idea with her flatmate, Arena, who was studying communication and marketing. The idea was developed in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Milan and eventually a prototype was produced in 2012. The graduation project eventually attracted investors. The project was granted funding from the Province of Trento and the support of the European Regional Development Fund. The Italian Ministry of Economic Development has also supported the start-up.
The process of making the orange fiber starts in Sicily by collecting tons of left-over orange pulp, peels and seeds from an orange-juice factory. First, cellulose acetate is extracted from orange waste. All vegetables contain cellulose and it's one of the most abundant organic compounds on earth. The extracted raw material is sent to a factory partner in Spain where it is transformed into fiber. Once the fiber is prepared for yarn spinning, the final part of the weaving is processed in Como, which is well-known for their world-wide silk production.
The orange-fiber yarn can be used for weaving any normal textile and can be mixed with other kinds of fibers such as linen and cotton. It is possible to dye or print with either ink-jet or natural pigment. Arena, the co-founder of Orange Fiber says, “It is possible to create this kind of fabric from other citrus fruits such as lemon and Bergamot. But lemon wastes have been already used to extract pectin so Adriana thought about oranges.”
After five years of continuous research and development, the innovative project won several national and international awards. One of the biggest achievements was the award of a grant of 150,000 euros from H&M Foundation's Global Change in 2015. The non-profit organisation of fashion brand, H&M, has recognised their efforts to protect natural resources and be close to the fashion loop. The competition was tough, as over 2,700 innovators from 112 countries participated. The UNECE Ideas for Change Award was given in 2015. The fabric collection and small clothing collection were presented at Green Fashion Week in Milan last year, which caught the attention of several brands and media. Their success is not only about creating such an innovative project, but also turning a small start-up project into an industrial commercial business.
This most innovative idea was inspired by one of the most traditional fruits of Sicily. The two girls' dream came true; recycling industrial wastes and making into a sustainable byproduct with renewable source. There is a rising interest in sustainable fashion among many commercial brands and Orange Fiber's future projects are in the pipeline. Arena says, “Of course, any company can buy our ready-made orange fabrics, but it is a great pleasure to work with some clothing brands to develop original fabrics together.” Orange Fiber is currently in collaboration with a huge international brand and the name of the brand will be disclosed next month.