What if I said to you, residual materials of citrus fruits can be cultivated into opulent fabrics likened to the most luxurious of silks? The Godfather, Don Michael Corleone, would roll around in his grave knowing he missed a trick with the lucrative opportunities of Sicilian citrus fruits hailing from his territory. For the latest edition of S & S Spotlight, let me introduce you to Orange Fiber. Delivering the zest of equal parts innovation and elegance, Orange Fiber is the world’s first brand to create a patented material derived from ‘pastazzo’, translating from Italian to mean otherwise wasted.
Context of Industry Trends
As you may have cottoned on, the fashion industry is experiencing sustainability as a unifying phenomena, ebbing ever closer to the tipping point, whereby green trends and the prioritisation to close the loop across value chains will be decimated throughout commercial practices. In April, I attended a seminar hosted by Bocconi’s Green Light For Business, which centred around the fashion revolution and sustainable behaviours being adopted by the industry. It featured panellists from Vivienne Westwood, Patagonia, Orange Fiber and Progetto Quid, an Italian eco-fashion company involved in social rehabilitation.
Through innovation along product life cycles and circular economic trends, fashion commerce is overhauling its traditional business models in the production of garments, apparel and textiles to align their visions to the framework of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
For those in positions of power, it is becoming increasingly apparent that they answer to a wider group of stakeholders including their customers, suppliers and eco system services to create long term societal and environmental value. The priorities are no longer merely reduced to the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder profits for those in the boardrooms of luxury conglomerates.
Departure from an era of outsourcing to low cost countries and exploitation of cheap sub-contracted labour still seems light years away but active consumerism and raising awareness, care for workers and creating a safe operating space for communities and the environment are incrementally increasing their frequency on the fashion agenda. To read my feature on the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry click here.
With this in mind, let us investigate a pioneering Italian company developing innovative, repurposed high fashion material, Orange Fibre. Exuding the luxurious quality synonymous with the ‘Made in Italy’ reputation, the brand has configured a method to transform the bi-products of citrus juice and ‘pastazzo’ into ethereal textiles. This has witnessed them raise the bar to a new standard in the industry which they have coined ‘Luxury 3.0’.
Origins of Orange Fiber
This solutions-based company was founded in 2014, small in nature as is the case with the majority of Italian SMEs and boasts 5 founding members. This includes creator and founding partner Adriana Santanocito, who gained her expertise in textile materials and fashion technology in Milan and heads up the design and development. Her co-founder, Enrica Arena, who was a panellist at the Fashion Revolution seminar, is responsible for the communications, marketing and fundraising division. Joining them are Francesco Virlinzi and Antonio Perdichizzi, entrepreneurs; and Corrado Blandini, lawyer.
The business’s vision of combining quality, sustainability and innovation stemmed from Adriana’s thesis proposal on sustainable fabrics made from citrus by-products. The pioneering and refinement of this material saw the technology and fabric patented in 2013, followed by the official establishment of the start-up in 2014. Exposure at Vogues Fashion Night Out in Milano during September Fashion Week in 2014 showcased Orange Fiber’s invention to the industry and the subsequent year witnessed the first pilot plant extraction take place. Since then, the company has scaled up its operational and production phases with its official launch into the market in April 2017 with its first collection.
Enrica’s insight into the intricacies and operations of the company was invaluable. Italy’s notoriety for textiles is also complemented by its bountiful industry in the fruit sector, especially in the southern Isles of Don Corleone’s hometown Sicilia.
Did you know that for every orange pulverised in the juicing process for our highly concentrated Vitamin C morning beverages, 50% of it’s weight is disposed, thus presenting a useful underutilised and free resource as well as 1 of our essential 5 a day!
The above illustration depicts the process by which the Orange Fiber team extract the cellulose from the oranges to create the silk-like yarn for fabrics. Cellulosic fibres provide an alternative to wood that may be used in the production of many other more orthodox mass-produced textiles. The orange cellulostic fibres have the same derivatives as cotton and are still malleable in regards to the dying process. The fabric itself, when used in its purest form, results in 100% citrus textile and is a lightweight, silky soft fabric which can be opaque or shiny according to production needs. Having felt, and proudly not poached the items for my own closet, I can vouch for this. Hermes move over, there are new sustainable scarves in town! Utilising the life cycle assessment analysis outlined here, we can already identify the substantial conservation and reduction of water in the manufacturing process as it is a secondary product of orange juice!
Enrica highlighted that she sees Orange Fiber as an ingredient brand and one that communicates directly with their end customers. This no doubt increases customer loyalty as well as long term added value for the business as they showcase their commitment to tangible sustainability efforts and benchmarking best practice.
Orange Fibre has proved that mother nature is a bountiful system which is duplicitous in its ability to also dress the fashionistas. The sustainability impact of utilising over 700,000 tonnes of citrus waste underpins their status as solution based innovators.
The brand should be commended in alleviating social challenges as well as mitigating the waste from mass orange juice processing. Adriana, Enrica and the team have done so as the discarded zesty materials were previously creating numerous closures and reprimands for Sicilian companies who were incorrectly disposing of their high volumes of fruit waste. Congruently, it has also alleviated the high costs for many farmers of conforming to the correct disposal of these pulpy leftovers, providing a business case for sustainable practices as well as mitigating environmental challenges.
Orange Fiber X Salvatore Ferragamo
Italia is saturated with the luxury leaders in the fashion world but when Orange Fibre teamed up with Salvatore Ferragmo to launch a capsule collection, there was undoubtedly no more perfect alignment. Salvatore Ferragamo, steeped and rich in Italian heritage of luxury and quality operates under the motto of ‘Responsible Passion’. Ferragamo’s iconicity in innovation has been awarded fashion’s coveted Neiman Marcus Prize and throughout the decades has seen the fashion house create a reputation for doing more with less. For example, Ferragamo himself was the first maestro to create shoes using raffia, cellophane and dentex motivated by resource scarcity during the Second World War!
The collaboration with Orange Fiber drew upon the designs of Mario Trimarchi and include the mark of the Salvatore Ferragamo Maison to construct a true testament to Mediterranean creativity. You can view the full collection here.
The designs of Orange Fiber have been worn by the likes of supermodel Karolina Korkova and Chilling Lin, a Chinese mega star during the 2018 Global Change Award Ceremony. You are also able to spot a creation from the company installed at the V & A’s Fashioned from Nature Exhibition which remains open until the end of January 2019!
Final Fruity Thoughts
Orange Fiber are an active force for good in demonstrating the infinite possibilities and value that natural capital and reusable waste can provide for the fashion industry.
Outlining the future for Orange Fiber, the company has recently received a large injection of cash investment from Swedish giant Hennes & Mauritz, after winning the Global Change Award by the H & M Foundation in 2016. This has enabled the company to plan to scale up their strategy beyond capsules and collaborations to continue to develop their lines and promote the monetary, societal and environmental value in circular practices!
My sentiment is that the work of Orange Fiber should represent a rising expectation of standards both in luxury and mainstream textile production. Modernity is synonymous with digitalisation in the fashion industry but this also now incorporates a longer term vision for both producers and consumers alike as to what wearable designs and luxury fashion look like. Orange Fiber prove sustainability and sartorial style with silk like-fabrics is not a zero-sum game.