Is fashion’s future orange?: On Lenzing’s collab with Italian textile major Orange Fibres

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An earthy colour palette (think mint, peach and indigo) and breezy silhouettes aren’t the only highlights of designer Anita Dongre’s Spring-Summer 21 lineup. ‘Sounds of the Forest’, which dropped recently, is literally derived from the forest — using wood-based cellulosic fibres courtesy a collaboration with Tencel.

Since its launch in the 1990s, the Austrian textile speciality brand (under The Lenzing Group) has come a long way. This year, it partnered with Red Carpet Green Dress, an organisation that pushes designers to focus on sustainable textile innovations and custom-made gowns for the Oscars. It found its way into pret with designers like Australia’s Kit Willow and Rajesh Pratap Singh closer home. And courtesy its light-weight nature, it also featured in swimwear collections by design houses such as Mara Hoffman and The Summer House in India.

From Anita Dongre’s ‘Sounds of the Forest’ collection

From Anita Dongre’s ‘Sounds of the Forest’ collection   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Now, after experiments with indigo and viscose, The Lenzing Group has partnered with Italy’s Orange Fiber to create the first-ever Tencel-branded lyocell fibre made from orange peels. The company, which has collaborated with Salvatore Ferragamo and H&M in the past, taps into the 7,00,000 tonnes of ‘pastazzo’ (by-product of the country’s citrus processing industry) produced every year. International news reports claim that the orange fibre can be dyed, coloured and printed on, to create any look. In addition, thanks to nanotechnology, the material supposedly contains essential oils and vitamin C, is lightweight and absorbs moisture (we are yet to learn if the vitamins are passed on to the wearer).

In an exclusive for The Hindu Weekend, Avinash Mane, Commercial Head, Lenzing AG, takes us through India’s growing sustainable fashion market, why research is serious business at the brand, and how orange is the next best thing in fashion.

Why did you decide to experiment with citrus fibres?

We’re always working on innovative ways to recycle sustainable raw materials to craft fabrics. Examples include Refibra [made from upcycling cotton scraps] and Ecovero [viscose natural fibers]. We came across Orange Fibre in early 2021 and were keen to put citrus waste to use. It can be used in combination with wood pulp [sourced from Europe, South Africa, Germany]. At present, the new material is under trial and we’re working towards making yarn out of it. We aim to have a collaborative collection out by the end of this year featuring limited-edition western wear.

What challenges did you face?

Orange pulp has different characteristics when compared to wood’s cellulose content. Creating the right combination to ensure it can be dyed perfectly was an area we had to work on technically. Since we are in the sampling and development stage, there are some additional manufacturing costs. When we enter commercial production, the cost will be on par with our other speciality fabrics, such as the Tencel modal indigo.

The future of fibre
  • Internationally, leftovers from apple juice and cider are being blended with natural rubber to create yet another plant-based leather alternative, Leap (courtesy Copenhagen-based Beyond Leather). In the US, food company Dole Sunshine Company has partnered with London’s Ananas Anam — the firm that brought us vegan pineapple leather, Piñatex — to put excess pineapple leaves from Dole farms in the Philippines to use.
  • While banana and aloe fabrics aren’t new to the Indian market, Spinning Future Threads — a joint report from the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) — confirms that our country holds great potential to continue recycling its excess agri waste such as sorghum, pineapple leaves, maize, sugarcane,and the like. Here’s to more experiments!

Lenzing’s research process.

There are over 200 people at the corporate’s R&D team who are constantly researching new technologies, processes, products and applications for wood-based cellulosic fibres and biorefineries. We hold 1,302 patents and patent applications [from 216 patent families] in 52 countries.

Recent brand tie-ups.

The sustainability factor is high in both the domestic and international markets. In Europe and the UK, brands such as H&M, Marks & Spencer, Superdry, and Primark are gradually moving out of viscose and experimenting with natural fabrics. Outfits such as Patagonia, LuluLemon, and Levis in the US have also switched from viscose to Ecovero. Uniqlo, the Japanese casual wear retailer, is looking to make the shift. And In India, the likes of Levis, Spykar, and Mufti are now adopting Tencel Denim. Soon, home decor and furniture majors such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Macy’s will announce collections crafted in eco fabrics.

Avinash Mane

Avinash Mane   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Is the Indian consumer willing to shell out more for sustainable fashion?

About five years ago, there was a huge resistance to cost escalation, but buyers are willing to pay today. Lenzing was established in 1938, but we could enter and develop the Indian and South Asia markets only post 2000 as they were dominated by cotton-based products. We’re now witnessing a change in the mindset of both brands and consumers. Approximately 60% of India’s population is below 40 years, are tech savvy with high disposable incomes, and are more aware of what goes into the creation of their apparel.

What’s next?

In a bid towards increasing our footprint in the South Asia market, a new Tencel Lyocell plant will be established in Thailand by the end of this year. So, raw material will be available faster to supply chain partners in the region. Collabs with Indian designers and high-end labels are also in the works, as are experiments with new materials such as hemp waste.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 8:08:29 PM |

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