Citrus colored fabric gives the fashion industry a vitamin boost

Orange jam, orange cake, orange juice, orange jelly, orange liqueur and orange jam. Citrus fruits can be squeezed pretty well, so to speak. But making fabric out of oranges is something completely new. Enrica Arena (35) from Sicily makes it clear that you shouldn’t imagine jackets made of orange peel stuck together. She is co-director of Orange Fiber, a start-up that makes fabrics from citrus fruits. It is fully in line with the trend to produce as much “environmentally friendly” clothing as possible.

How should we imagine orange fabric?

This is a substance made from squeezed lemons and oranges, or rather citrus pulp. Artificial cellulose is made from the pulp. This in itself is not new, because artificial cellulose fibers such as viscose are made from dissolved cellulose, mainly from wood. Citrus is definitely new. We extract the cellulose from citrus fruits here in Sicily, then partners in other European countries process it into staple or textile fibers. Back in Italy, the fabrics are woven and finished. We supply rolls of fabric to the clothing industry.

Why are the fibers not also spun in Sicily?

We do not have this know-how on our island or anywhere else in Italy. Most of the plants for the production of fibers from pulp are located in countries with a lot of forestry such as Germany, Austria and Finland.

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What types of products can be made from citrus tissue?

The fabrics that we are now manufacturing consist of a continuous fiber that can only be processed with one more thread. Our fabric is thus similar to silk and is clearly an alternative to it. Orange fiber is a lightweight fabric, ideal for sweaters and scarves. Salvatore Ferragamo is the first fashion house to use Orange Fiber. You have created an exclusive collection of prints by the Italian designer Mario Trimarchi. For Conscious Exclusive, the flagship collection from H&M, a short blouse in Boho style (Bohemian Style, publisher) was created, which is partly made of orange fiber. We also supplied the fabric for a tie from the collection of the famous tie manufacturer Marinella.

Blouse partly made of citrus fabric, from the Conscious Exclusive collection by H&M © Orangefiber

Can Orange Fiber be used on other items of clothing?

This summer we will present a new fabric. It is not made up of a long fiber, but of a short one. The disadvantage of a continuous thread is that it can only be processed with another thread and that the fabric has a low elasticity at the end. The advantage of short fibers is that they are easier to mix when spinning. With it you can do more, also because it is the most used process in the production chain. This new fabric will be much more elastic and will share the properties of the other fibers intermingled with it. So in the future, citrus fibers can also be used in casual clothing, including denim.

Were you the first to come up with the idea of ​​making citrus substances?

We are definitely the first to develop this technology. Adriana Santanicito, my partner in the company, was inspired by citrus pulp fabrics while studying fashion in 2012. We had the first tests carried out at the Faculty of Chemistry and Materials at the Polytechnic University of Milan. We founded the company in 2014 and then grew step by step: from the feasibility study and patent application to the first prototype and participation of private investors. Our first pilot plant went into operation in 2016.

What are the environmental benefits of citrus fruits?

More than 700,000 tons of citrus juice by-products are produced in Italy every year. The disposal of this waste, even if it is organic waste, is associated with high economic and ecological costs. There are other innovative ways to use citrus pulp as responsibly as possible. There are innovative companies that process flour from it, while others convert it into biocomposites or use cellulose in 3D printing.

Wouldn’t 3D printing be an idea to expand your market?

We want to limit ourselves to specializing in textiles. But I can imagine that we will become an innovative bio-aggregator in the future. We could create a platform for the organic fabric market to create synergies with similar products and manufacturers.

The textile and fashion world is in a state of upheaval. Making materials more sustainable is the first step towards environmental neutrality. Our industry is now about recovering materials, extending the life of products, avoiding waste and ensuring a real waste cycle. The future of fashion and consumption in general is “buy less, buy better”. We are ready for it.

Read more about an attempt to achieve a closed-loop model.

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