R. Sucharitha, a research scholar from Avinashilingam University looks to the banana fibre as a friendly and more eco-friendly textile option

Many of us are aware that wearing clothes with synthetic dyes could be harmful for the skin, and for the environment in the long run. But we continue wearing them as there are no quality alternatives.

Now here’s a lady from the city who is doing research on extracting plant fibres and combining them with cotton and using natural dyes like the extract of the butea monosperma flower.

She contends that the banana fibre, most of which goes waste, can be a very good substitute to cotton and other natural fibres. It is also friendlier on the skin.

R. Sucharitha, a research scholar from Avinishalingam University, presented findings of her research in an international conference on advances in fibres, finishes, technical textiles and nonwovens in Mumbai. These findings will soon be published in an international journal, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) in January 2014.

“Artificial dyes in clothes can pose environmental and health risks, and people have been looking for more environmentally friendly alternatives over the years. There are many plant fibres that can be used in the textile industry,” says Sucharitha.

“Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are the largest producers of banana in the country, and the banana fibre is an excellent source of raw material. The banana fibre industry can also improve the rural economy by giving employment to rural women and reviving the handloom industry, which is on the verge of extinction,” she says.

Sucharitha has so far travelled to Trichy, Nagercoil, Theni, Gobichettipalayam and Sirumugai and collected banana fibres for her research. She compared properties of three varieties, the red and green banana and the nendran, which have the most favourable textile qualities.

She then combined the varieties with cotton separately and got them woven on handlooms. The banana fibres and cotton fabric were then dyed with the butea monosperma flower and treated with cotton enzyme to improve their overall appearance.

Sucharitha tested the quality of the fabric at the South Indian Textile Research Organisation (SITRA) and at Kumaraguru College.

She currently works as the Head of Department of Costume Design and Fashion at the Hindusthan College of Arts and Science and is looking to spread the message of switching to environmentally friendly fabrics among her students.

“Students are the future and need to be aware of eco-friendly alternatives when it comes to wearing apparel, rather than only looking at the fashionable aspect of things. Through my thesis, I am looking to tell tribal people about the wide uses of the banana plant, which they are not aware of. This will give them employment options too,” she says.