Through her project ‘Not a banana republic’, Roberta incorporates Ecuador’s national waste stream from banana agriculture into the supply chain for sustainable textile production. There is a huge unnoticed potential in the high volumes of residues coming from the agricultural sector. Less than 2% are put into productive use while the majority of the current ‘bio-valorization’ activities downgrade it to products like ethanol, biogas, bio composites and paper. With 230 million tons of waste generated from banana cultivation, this project explores how to incorporate banana fibre, a natural and prolific by-product, as a raw resource for the textile industry. The fibres are processed to create a viable and more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton.

With a focus on the circular economic model proposed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, her attempt to avoid waste production at the resource extraction stage was achieved. ‘A by-product or residual product does not constitute waste if it is destined for direct re-use in a further process in its existing form and if the use as a substitute or ingredient is as environmentally sound as the material it is replacing’ (Jacobs, 1997). By reintroducing existing leftover materials back into innovative production systems, the optimization of resources can be succeeded. In an era where there is an overflow of matter and substances, finding a potential new application for undervalued resources seems like the ethical thing to do from an environmental perspective.

Her project is a direct response to the unsustainability of the industry. It is fixed on this notion where the least amount of land and dangerous pesticides should be utilized solely for fibre production if there is an apt substitute, ex. A by-product from the agricultural industry or recycled fibres already in circulation. The fibres come from the true stem or raquis, where the bunches of bananas grow. It is then passed through an extracting machine to remove excess water and cellulose leaving only the fibrous content.

The properties of current commercially available banana yarns vary greatly depending on the processes the virgin material has been subdued to. Treating it as viscose is very common. Its shine and softness resemble silk giving it a desirable finish. When it is not put through these hard chemicals, the amount of lignin, 5-18%, and pectin, 3-5%, in the fibres, gives the yarn a similar feel to jute. Often itchy and stiff, Roberta ought to find an eco-friendlier approach for degumming the fibres through the use of enzymes.

A fine yarn suitable for denim production was developed. They are usually anywhere between 20 to 150 counts depending on the desired heaviness of the fabric.

Looking at the male flower, its dark tone appears to be an unusual source for naturally dyeing textiles. This part of the Musa’s anatomy has a lot of potential as replacement of toxic dye substances. Currently, they are cut and left on the top soil to decompose. Utilizing cellulosic fibres and no synthetic dyes, the final fabric follows the biological cycle proposed by the circular economic model. At the end of its life, it can be home-composted and thus return as nutrients to the soil. The same is possible to do with any waste created from the spinning process, fibres that are too short to be spun will return to the soil closing the loop as a regenerative system.

To illustrate the potential of this new fibre, Roberta made a shirt inspired by the traditional Guayabera often worn by banana farmers. It is made entirely from the fibrous waste and naturally dyed using the waste flowers. Not a banana republic