By Enrica Arena – Orange Fiber Co-founder
Enrica Arena presents Orange Fiber, a company that produces a sustainable fabric similar to silk from citrus fruits. The material was born as an alternative product to classic cellulose, so the production is cut down over 70 million trees all. The developed product can be printed, colored and packaged, so brands don’t have to modify their suppliers and can be woven together with all other materials.
The activity was born from the idea of recovering what remains at the end of the industrial pressing of the orange for the production of the juice, which is considered a processing waste and which involves great costs for the companies in the sector and for the environment. In fact, 60% of the original weight of the fruit is considered waste but through a series of research carried out in collaboration with a university professor in the chemistry department of the Politecnico di Milano, it is currently possible to examine and patent an innovative process to transform the by-product of citrus fruits in a new resource capable of revolutionizing fashion in a sustainable and protected way to the resolution of problems related to the disposal.
In the fashion field, 60% of the garments are made with materials deriving from the transformation of oil, and this not only causes environmental problems, but also links the value of materials to the oscillation of oil prices, by influencing the possibility that a collection is profitable or not for a brand.
Furthermore, 25% of the products in the sector come from cotton, a material whose production requires high quantities of water and soil, and which is often produced using pesticides. Organic cotton, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of needing more soil because it uses less pesticides but has a lower yield. Only 6% of the products consist of artificial natural materials that pass through a chemical transformation to be transformed into a fiber that looks like a continuous burr or a staple, like that of Orange Fiber.
Orange Fiber fabrics are produced from the by-product of oranges. The first part of the innovative production process, the extraction of the cellulose suitable for spinning from the orange pulp, takes place in the Orange Fiber pilot plant installed in Sicily inside a partner company.
The subsequent spinning phase takes place in partnership with a leading Spanish company in the sector and the final weaving phase in collaboration with a company from Como. Identifying the partner companies was not so easy, there are no longer companies in Italy that transform cellulose into fibers: for this reason, it was necessary to almost rebuild a chain that would allow the realization of the product.
Orange Fiber has a long history behind it, it is not possible to hide that materials startups take years to develop and above all to position themselves in a stable manner. In fact, the idea was born 7 years ago and for 5 years it has been in operation starting from the filing of the patent in 2013, while the company was set up in February 2014. 2016 was the true year of the turning point in which the company won the “Global Change Awards” of the H&M Foundation and signed an exclusive contract with the famous and historic Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo for the supply of over 10,000 meters of fabric, which were used to create the Ferragamo Orange Fiber Collection, a daily wear capsule collection launched in April 2017.
The clients targeted by Orange Fiber are the fashion and luxury brands. According to the Pulse report of the Fashion Industry 2018 published by Global Fashion Agenda, in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, 89% of the fashion brands, participating in the initiative, affirm that their priority is to replace traditional materials with sustainable materials. Orange Fiber is precisely in this direction trying to satisfy the needs of these brands. To
In fact, in April 2019, the Orange Fiber fabric was included in the Conscious Exclusive of Swedish giant H&M – a special collection a limited edition entirely dedicated to sustainable materials – and used to create a stop in boho style with the Orange Fiber logo on the label, like this as had already happened in 2017 for Ferragamo Orange Fiber collection.
Both collaborations have met with great success: a year and a half after the launch of the Orange Fiber Project, journalists still ask for information and talk about this collection and one of the garments has also been exhibited for several months at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London as part of the Fashioned from Nature exhibition dedicated to the link between fashion and nature, which highlights the strong interest in the product.
In recent years Orange Fiber has received numerous awards. In April 2018 it was among the 15 startups admitted to the Fashion for Good – Plug & Play Accelerator program, the acceleration program for startups with high potential innovations for sustainability, circularity and transparency in the fashion sector. Thanks to the acceleration program, the company had the opportunity to expand its network, get in touch with relevant realities in the market of fashion and luxury and to gain credibility with important players in the sustainable ecosystem, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has always been committed to environmental protection and innovation.
Orange Fiber took the first steps thanks to a mix of public and private funds, collecting over the years around 500 thousand euros, money that is relatively few when you are dealing with the development of an industrial startup. For this reason, it launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on the Crowdfundme portal. The funds raised will serve to support the growth of the company, by allowing the increase of its production capacity and the optimization of the industrial process.