Tiny Kosrae Island in the Federated States of Micronesia is best known for managing to maintain its traditions in the face of hundreds of years of western incursion in its region.
Although theoretically under the rule of Spain, Germany, Japan and the U.S. under the United Nations Trusteeship of the Pacific Islands during various periods, Kosrae, also known as "the island of the sleeping lady" for its prime geographical feature, has been able to endure with little change.
Now a start up industry is making some serious waves in the international fashion and apparel world, with, of all things, products created from the banana waste that is commonly seen on all Pacific islands.
Traditional natural fabrics such as cotton are hard on the environment and petroleum derived fibers such as acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex are widely viewed as part of the threat posed by global warming.
Enter the humble banana, much loved by consumers, but due to its unique growth cycle, a producer of stalks and stems that are normally left to biodegrade/rot on the ground.
A Kosrae-based company, Green Banana Paper, founded by Matt Simpson, saw promise in all that waste, which he is now buying up from local farmers.
Banana fiber can be used for handmade paper, as the company name suggests, but there are a lot of other potential products, such as rope, mats and woven fabrics. Green Banana is making ‘vegan’ wallets, purses and beads, as well as paper.
How about a banana wallet?
Banana fiber, also known as musa fibre is one of the world’s strongest natural fibers. It’s biodegradable, the natural fiber is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable. Banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fiber. Banana fiber can be used to make a number of different textiles with different weights and thicknesses, based on what part of the banana stem the fiber was extracted from. The thicker, sturdier fibers are taken from the banana trees outer sheaths, whereas the inner sheaths result in softer fibers.
Simpson makes no claim to originating banana fiber products , which likely date as far back as the 13th Century in Japan. Cotton and silk imported from China and India simply became more popular. A world with somewhat declining resources is re-thinking this. Many products, ranging from tea bags to car tires to saris and Japanese yen notes are being made from banana by-products.
As part of his banana product sales pitch, Simpson says the products are water, fire and tear resistant as well as—of course—recyclable.
Or a banana business card?
As the result of modern improvements in extraction and turning the fiber into a pulp, handmade paper stands out as one of the biggest opportunities for banana fiber. The thickness of the paper can be adjusted to achieve the desired texture and to make it suitable for a finished product.
Thick papers can be made to achieve a card stock feeling that is suitable for business cards and greeting cards or thin enough for tissue paper. Papermaking artisans have also experimented with mixing various fibers including recycled paper pulp, pineapple and sakau to achieve a wide variety of papers.