INTERVIEW WITH Enrica Arena
(Co-founder of the eco-sustainable textile company ‘Orange Fiber’)
“PRODUCING TEXTILE ITEMS FROM ORANGE’S PEELS”
The textile industry (the fashion industry) is one of the most profitable and at the same time polluting industries of the Earth. Its annual turnover is 1,500 billion euros and it produces over one billion clothes per year. And the projections are clear…With a 63% increase in the textile production by 2030, it is obvious that this sector will have an ever-greater impact on the environment and on the Earth ecosystem. In this perspective, various initiatives are emerging: they conceive production and consumption processes in a rather different way. One of these is ORANGE FIBER, an eco-sustainable textile company, that has patented and produces eco-friendly fabrics from citrus by-products, through an innovative process. How was ORANGE FIBER born? Why use innovative fibres? Is it possible to combine sustainability, quality and aesthetics in the fashion industry? How? Enrica Arena, co-founder of ORANGE FIBER, answered to these and other questions.
Enrica Arena. Enrica Arena was born in Catania and graduated in International Cooperation for Development and Communication. She has gained experiences in non-profit communication and project management including a year in Egypt as PR Specialist for Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Project Assistant for UNDP-Egypt. There she discovered the passion for social entrepreneurship. She joined ORANGE FIBER project to turn her passion into reality. Now she follows the project management with Adriana Santanocito and she is responsible for communication, fundraising, business and participation in national and international competitions.
Orange Fiber. ORANGE FIBER is an eco-sustainable textile company, founded by Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena. ORANGE FIBER has patented and produces eco-friendly fabrics from citrus by-products, through an innovative process of extraction.
This interview was made in August 2017 and published in April 2018 on www.lteconomy.org
Subject: sustainable Textile and circular economy
This interview was made by:
Grazia Giordano (Long Term Economy collaborator, Italy)
Thanks go to Dario Ruggiero (Founder of Long Term Economy, GGA, Italy), for helping in making the questions.
- First of all the main advantage is environmental… We have a patented process which allow us to produce high-quality fibres from something that is considered ‘waste’ in another sector: orange by-products - 1 million tonnes in Italy, according to recent data.
- In December 2015, thanks to public funding from the Invitalia’s (Ministry of Economic Development) Smart & Start funding mechanism, we inaugurated our first piloting-plant in Sicily for producing our exclusive product.
- The industry must be rethought. New models of production, Circular economy-based models are needed. Law-impact raw materials must be used.
- In our specific case, research has played a critical role to move from the concept-idea to the product. The feasibility study.
- On the occasion of the Earth Day, we launched the first fashion collection made with our exclusive citrus fabrics. That happened in the famous and historic Salvatore Ferragamo’s maison in Florence (Italy): the Ferragamo Orange Fiber Collection.
- The problem concerning the disposal of citrus by-products is a global problem: 15.6 million tonnes per year in the world, and 1 million tonnes per year in Italy. So the potential of scaling up our process is enormous! That means also moving from a niche-market to the mass-market.
Question 1. Welcome Enrica Arena and thank you for being with us. You are one of the co-founders of the textile eco-sustainable company ORANGE FIBER, which makes cruelty-free fabrics from oranges’ peels. How the idea was born?
All started in 2011. Adriana Santanocito (creator and co-founder of ORANGE FIBER) who was studying Fashion Design and Innovative Materials at the AFOL Moda in Milan, sensed the trend of sustainable fabrics and decided to make it the subject of her thesis. At the same time, she knew that the orange market in Italy (especially in Sicily) was in crisis. The idea came up…Why not use citrus fruit by-products to create sustainable fashion fabrics. The process was tested at the laboratory of Chemistry of Materials at the Politecnico of Milan; she filed the patent in Italy, then extended to international PCT in 2014.
Let me be clear on one fact. There is a serious issue affecting the orange sector in Sicily and Italy in general: the disposal of the by-products of orange squeezing - 1 million tonnes per year In Italy with considerable economic and environmental costs.
At that time, we shared the same house in Milan. She talked to me of her idea and I was struck: from that day we work side by side with ORANGE FIBER.
ORANGE FIBER’s yarns and fabrics
Source: Orange Fiber
Question 2. Why fibers from oranges’ peels and not other (more used) natural fibers? What are its strengths and weaknesses (quality, cost, environmental impact, etc ...)?
First of all the main advantage is the environment… We have a patented process which allows us to produce high-quality fibers from something that is considered ‘waste’ in another sector: orange by-products - 1 million tonnes in Italy, according to recent data. The disposal of these by-products are costly (environmentally and economically).
The fabric variants produced so far include a satin, a poplin, and a twill 100% Orange Fiber, impalpable and lightweight, viscose-like. Our fabrics are of natural white color suitable for printing and coloring, just like traditional fabrics.
Question 3. Does your company make use of innovative and peculiar manufacturing processes and machines? Is a special know-how required?
Of course. As I said, we developed and patented the process in collaboration with the Politecnico of Milan n 2012. In December 2015, thanks to public funding from the Invitalia’s (Ministry of Economic Development) Smart & Start funding mechanism, we inaugurated our first piloting-plant in Sicily for producing our exclusive product. You can imagine from that what a particular know how is required, compared to traditional textile companies. Our professionals are constantly trained and our company invests very much and very constantly in R&D.
ORANGE FIBER’s yarns and fabrics
Source: Orange Fiber
Question 4. ORANGE FIBER is a real example of the so-called 'Circular Economy:’ its raw material comes from the waste of another sector. Is this new model of production important for making the textile industry really sustainable? In which areas and phases of the textile sector’s supply chain should sustainability improve?
Circular economy in the fashion industry? It is critical!!! Fashion and its supply chain are the second most polluting industry in the world, after that of oil. The industry must be rethought. New models of production, Circular economy-based models are needed. Law-impact raw materials must be used; new technologies and products must be developed; the supply chain must be transparent and certified, production processes monitored and improved, innovation promoted. The new fashion industry must merge ethics and aesthetics; brands and consumers must become more responsible and aware.
Question 5. ORANGE FIBER is the result of a collaboration with the Politecnico of Milan. How important is scientific research for improving eco-sustainability in the textile industry? What do you think about Italy with reference to this aspect?
I must say that, in our specific case, research has played a critical role to move from the concept-idea to the product. The feasibility study - conducted in conjunction with the laboratory of Chemical Materials of Politecnico of Milan – has required great commitment and sacrifice, but ultimately has paid out.
So Scientific research and fashion…a surprising merger… a merger which has driven our project since the beginning; it has made us able to develop Orange-Fiber… But, let me say that it is not just a surprising merger… it is not just paying… it is fundamental! It is fundamental to support and foster sustainability and innovation in the textile industry. Sensitivity towards environmental sustainability issues is growing exponentially…So the interest in this issues by Italian universities… Our story is a practical example of this trend.
Question 6. Your company was founded in 2014. Has the demand of your products increased since then? What are your most preferred communication channels?
ORANGE FIBER, you know is something very innovative. Who can imagine to produce fabrics from oranges? So our products has first of all raised ‘curiosity’ from companies, brands and entrepreneurs from the most diverse sectors: from fashion to home-textiles, from packaging to automotive. Since 2014, web-communication and socials have played a very important role in our communication strategy, as thanks to them we have attracted many Italian and foreign brands. The interest for new materials is growing exponentially.
Question 7. In spring 2017, the ‘Ferragamo Orange Fiber Collection’ was launched. It combines innovation, design and creativity, through the joint effort with a very important Italian fashion brand (Salvatore Ferragamo s.p.a.). How do you judge the feedback of customers?
Yes, it was n 22 April 2017. On the occasion of the Earth Day, we launched the first fashion collection made with our exclusive citrus-fabrics. That happened in the famous and historic Salvatore Ferragamo’s maison in Florence (Italy): the Ferragamo Orange Fiber Collection. Salvatore Ferragamo has been the first designer who has seized the potentials of our citrus-fabrics, creating a daily wear Capsule Collection, that is elegant, fresh and contemporary, perfect for the spring-summer 2017. This collaboration is an important milestone for our company and the first big step in the international fashion market. The customers’ feedback? Very positive I should say. The elegance, the silky hand, the origin and the sustainability of our tissues capture the attention and the consensus of consumer.
The Ferragamo Orange Fiber spring – summer 2017 Collection
Source: Orange Fiber
Question 8. The traditional textile industry covers all the social strata of the population by providing affordable clothing to all. Do you think that your clothes and those produced by using similar processes (i.e. in line with the circular economy) can meet the demands from all social classes of the population? Or will yours remain a product for the elite? In other words, can we do without the current unsustainable textile production system?
Let’s talk about our current status. ORANGE FIBER is a B2B company; it produces fabrics targeted to Luxury Fashion Brands; it is very sensitive to environmental sustainability and innovation. Now let’s do some reasoning…and think about the problem concerning the disposal of citrus by-products; it is a global problem: 15.6 million tonnes per year in the world, and 1 million tonnes per year in Italy. So the potential of scaling up our process is enormous! That means also moving from a niche-market to the mass-market.
Question 9. What are your future plans? Do you plan to extend Orange Fiber technology to other types of fruit?
ORANGE FIBER is a patented process which allows us to create fabrics from all types of citrus: from orange to lemon, from grapefruit to bergamot. We are now working on the optimization of the production process and the development of different types of fabrics. Our dream is to become the Italian leading company in the sustainable textile segment; create a brand recognized for its big efforts on environment and transparency.
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