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Sustainable textile innovations: lotus fibres

In view of resources dwindling fast and natural fibres like cotton being resource-intensive to process and petroleum-based fibres like acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex not being the most environmentally friendly, it is about time to look for sustainable alternatives when producing fibres and fabrics. In a new series, FashionUnited will explore the sustainable alternatives and textile innovations that are currently being pursued all over the world.

The good news is, there are many alternatives out there and though not all may be suitable for large-scale production, the versatility of natural materials is just mind boggling. Thus, the list of alternative textile materials reads like an exotic shopping list - milk, nettles, pineapples, algae, coconuts and lotus stems, to name a few. Yes, you read that right, even lotus stems, which is what this article is going to explore.

Sustainable textile innovations: lotus fibres

Making fibres out of lotus stems has a long tradition

Using lotus fibres to weave into fabrics might sound exotic in the western world but in countries like Thailand or Myanmar for example, villagers have been using lotus fibres for rare fabrics for centuries. The process is quite time-consuming but produces a luxurious fabric that feels like a combination of silk and raw linen. After harvesting the lotus stems from lakes, the artisans slice the end of the stems and pull out the long, thin fibres from the centre. This has to be done within three days of cutting or the result will not be as desirable. The obtained threads are then washed and hung to dry and finally handwoven on looms into fabric.

Sounds complicated and time-consuming? Well, it is and the resulting garments are a far cry from fast fashion and priced accordingly. An enterprising company from India - where the lotus is the national flower - wanted to change that and has come up with a tailored fit white shirt made out of lotus stems because apart from a beautiful look and feel, there is another distinct advantage - they are stain resistant.

Sustainable textile innovations: lotus fibres

NoMark Lotus shirts are stain resistant

“It is just the best white shirt ever made,” enthuses Binoy Ravjani, co-founder and CEO of Jaipur- based Hero’s Fashion Pvt Ltd when speaking to Fibre2Fashion, adding that “lotus fabric is the most ecological fabric in the world. ... Waste is transformed into a quality textile that doesn’t use any polluting resources such as oil, electricity, gas or any toxic chemicals during any stage of the production process.”

The process is similar to the traditional described above - once the lotus stems have been harvested, the fibres are collected and harvested and meticulously rolled into thread, which is then hand woven using traditional Thai or Burmese frame looms. The difference is that the fabric is then GOTS certified and the shirt tailor-made for each customer.

No wonder then that the light-weight, soft, silky and extremely breathable shirt has a calm and peaceful, almost meditative effect on the wearer. Ravjani swears by its healing abilities, which can cure - to some extent - headaches, heart ailments, asthma and lung issues. In addition, the NoMark Lotus shirt is easy on the environment, lasts many years because it does not need to be washed so often and has additional features that add to its longevity.

Sustainable textile innovations: lotus fibres

“We chose to go for the hydrophobic nanotechnology, instead of the traditional sprays which are harmful to the environment and make the fabric rough and unbreathable,” says the company on its website when explaining the shirt's anti-stain properties. So even if you spill red wine, ink, coffee or any other liquid that usually spells disaster for any garment, it will just roll off the NoMark Lotus shirt.

At 135 euros, the shirt does not come cheap but given its many advantages, the expense seems well worth it. Plus, the company is transparent about the shirt's sourcing and true cost (58.50 euros) and the amount spent on each expense like materials, accessories, labour, transport and miscellaneous. The company also offers a campaign price of 85 euros plus free worldwide shipping.

Samatoa Lotus Textiles specialises in lotus fabrics

Any apparel maker who feels inspired to use lotus fabrics in their own line does not need to reinvent the wheel - or the loom in this case. There are companies out there specialising in lotus fabrics, for example Samatoa Lotus Textiles in Cambodia. The company employs socially responsible manufacturing techniques to create eco fabrics that support women’s empowerment in the country. The fabrics are made in traditional ways but by using new ecofibers.

Sustainable textile innovations: lotus fibres

“Preserving the environment, paying people fairly and treating each person with respect and dignity are our prerequisites for a sustainable fashion business. All of our workers are paid a living wage, have trade union rights, paid leave, and health insurance, not to mention a safe working environment,” explains the company on its website and shows in a video (see below) just how exactly lotus textiles are made at Samatoa from stem to fabric.

As seen, lotus fibres are versatile and can be used for lotus fabrics that have many advantages compared to more conventional textiles. The relatively high price seems the only disadvantage but a changing customer mindset toward lasting garments, quality and a light environmental footprint should overcome that.

Photos: Samatoa Lotus Textiles website; NoMark Lotus Facebook