This Kit Is Bananas: How Bananatex is Providing a Sustainable Textile Alternative


Image via Bananatex

Banana fibers make for an appealing alternative to synthetics, but are airlines ready to pay the premium for sustainable kits?

The airline amenities market is ripe for sustainable packaging. “Most of the tenders I receive now ask us to include a sustainable option,” says Cindy Lam, director of Hong Kong-based amenity supplier Clip. One alternative the company has proposed in response is bananas.

“Banana fibers make a very sturdy fabric,” says Lam. “It’s very coarse, with an organic cotton feel.” To make its pouches, Clip uses Bananatex, a proprietary material developed in part by the Swiss bag brand Qwstion. Sometimes referred to as Manila hemp, the fibers are sourced in the Philippines from leaf stocks of abacá, a banana plant that requires minimal water and no chemicals to grow. The finished product is durable, waterproof and fully biodegradable.

“Most of the tenders I receive now ask us to include a sustainable option.” – Cindy Lam, Clip

“We’ve had really good feedback,” says Lam about the pouches her company displayed at a tradeshow last year, “but the challenge is the cost.” Compared with cotton, the fruit fiber is roughly 10 times more expensive per yard. Another drawback is the fact that the textile can only be offered in black or white, since it is difficult to dye sustainably. Despite this problem, Lam thinks it will catch on as demand for the material in adjacent industries reduces costs and the pressure to go green mounts. Clip is already exploring the product’s viability with “a smaller airline that has a very strong commitment to the environment,” she says.

textiles made from fruit
Image: Gertrudis Shaw

Packaging design company Albéa has also developed bags made from banana fibers, adding pineapple and bamboo byproducts into the mix as well. Meanwhile, France-based startup Green Whisper says it’s currently in talks to supply a European airline with bed linens and tablecloths made with its banana-based fabrics.

“Fruit- and plant-derived fibers are beginning to replace conventional cotton and petroleum-derived options,” says Petros Sakkis, chief marketing officer for service product supplier Wessco. Upcycled textiles are another option. The supplier recently used felt made from plastic bottles and recycled canvas to create eco-friendly wildlife-themed kits for Icelandair. Amenities provider Formia also used sustainable felt material in kits made for Air Tahiti Nui. The company plans to unveil new eco-friendly products later this year.

“This Kit Is Bananas” was originally published in the 10.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.