sneakers: from banana leaf sneakers to fish scale dresses, fashionistas are looking for eco-friendly materials

PARIS: Sneakers in banana or pineapple leaves, dresses in nettle or fish scales, the search for sustainable materials has propelled the fashion industry into crazy lands.

Experts warn that these new textiles are not a silver bullet to fashion’s huge overconsumption and waste problems, but may be a necessary step in the development of cleaner technologies.

“You could possibly eat the end product,” said Hannes Schoenegger, co-founder of Bananatex, which uses banana leaves in the Philippines to make bags, t-shirts and a line of shoes for H&M that has sold out. in two hours.

He was speaking at the Premiere Vision Paris conference, where industry professionals gather to find out which fabrics will dominate the coming seasons.

“We only harvest the sides of the plants, and they are already growing in the forest, so no chemicals, pesticides or even water are used,” Schoenegger added.

He was among the multiple stands presenting new bio-sourced materials.

Brazil-based Nova Kaeru offered leather made from the discarded scales of the giant pirarucu fish and another from the tropical ‘elephant ear’ plant.

Nearby, Ananas Anam showed Nike shoes made from waste pineapple leaves.

The nettles are in

These textiles may be relatively niche, but some companies are determined to bring them into the mainstream.

Spanish company Pyratex offers multiple options, from recycling waste from corn and sugar cane production to making fibers from Icelandic seaweed, Chinese bamboo or Austrian wood.

“It’s not about replacing cotton with an alternative crop. It’s about finding a wide variety of substitutes to make sure nothing is overused,” spokeswoman Pilar Tejada Lopez said.

One plant of particular interest is nettle, which can be made into a silky, incredibly strong fabric that can be used in everyday and luxury clothing.

It highlights the fact that many of these technologies are not new.

“Nettles have actually been used for clothing for centuries, but we’ve largely forgotten about them,” Lopez said.

“Part of our job is to reintroduce those ideas that have been lost.”


Natural limits

Others warn against overreliance on new materials in the sense of sustainability.

“Substitute materials are useless if we keep making the same amount of clothes,” said Victoire Satto, of The Good Goods, a media company specializing in responsible fashion.

They could even make the problem worse if intensified by encouraging further deforestation to make way for newly fashionable plants, she said.

This is why companies like Bananatex refuse to go beyond the natural limits of agriculture.

“Our project is part of a reforestation program, a good way to revitalize the soil and provide work for local families,” said Schoenegger.

“There is a natural limit and we will not go beyond it because it would be harmful.”

Pyratex also emphasizes partnering with responsible farmers and avoids ultra-complex supply chains that prevent apparel companies from knowing who is growing their raw materials and under what conditions.

But Satto says more research is also needed on the sustainability of bio-based materials, since half of a garment’s ecological damage is linked to its disposal.

“If the product only lasts six months, that’s huge in terms of environmental impact,” she said.


Ifeanyi Okwuadi, an award-winning British designer, says he focuses on how clothes are made, not what they are made of.

“When I talk about durability, I’m talking about the construction – right down to using the correct stitch length for each stitch, because that kind of fine detail affects the longevity of the garment when you put it in the wash,” a- he declared. .

He says many bio-based materials are still evolving.

“There are a lot of buzzwords out there right now to get you hooked, but ultimately we won’t need to say it’s from bananas or anything else – it’ll just be plant fiber.”

“I don’t use them in my work because current technology is quite primitive. But I see them as iterations, as with all technologies, and we need these innovations.”