Fibres are raw materials that can be converted into textile yarns. Fibres come in three categories:  

1) natural, made either from plants (cellulose) or animals (fleece); 2) semi-synthetic, derived from cellulose (rayon, viscose); 3) synthetic or artificial or man-made, produced from petroleum (polyester, nylon, etc).  

Textiles have been fundamental to human culture, history, and industry (Bédat 2021; Postrel 2020; St. Clair 2019). The process of going from fibre to yarn to fabric involves trade-specific technologies. Fibres are called staple if they are short in length; or filaments, if their length is longer (as is the case in for example silk or polyester). These fibres have to be twisted and spun into a yarn or thread before being processed into fabrics.  

The very beginning of fibres can be traced back to neolithic times. Because fabric tends to decay and disappear over time, archaeologists have to conduct their research on literal scraps of fibre or even just some pollen. Radiocarbon dating shows that already in prehistoric times threads were made from bast. Worldwide, people discovered how to create yarn out of fibres from flax (to make linen) and fleece (to make wool). But a yarn is not yet a fabric, so people also had to learn how to spin it into a yarn that is strong and smooth enough to be further processed into fabric by weaving; a highly complex technology that goes back 24,000 years.  

Firstly, natural fibres can be subdivided into two groups: fibres derived from animal fleece or insects, which are protein-based (wool and silk); and fibres acquired from plants, which are cellulose-based (flax, bamboo, hemp, cotton, etc). In both cases, the extraction of soft and flexible fibres destined to become yarn is a strenuous and painful process. For a long time, linen and wool remained the predominant raw materials. Around 2600 B.C. China invented the sericulture (the production of silk), maintaining its monopoly for more than 5,000 years (although fibres have been found in tombs over 8,500 years old; St. Clair, 63). Cotton has also been around for at least 5000 years – a crop heavily linked to violence, such as slavery in the USA and the exploitation of labourers in modern industrialization (Beckert, 2015). 

Secondly, fibres can be semi-synthetic or regenerated. In the beginning of the twentieth century, semi-synthetic fibres like rayon and viscose were invented. These are fibres derived from plants that fall into two categories: cellulose and protein fibres (Fashionary Team, 2021, 16-17). They are denominated as semi-synthetic (and not natural), because they are produced chemically in plants or factories. 

Thirdly, synthetic or man-made fibres stem from fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal. The most popular products are nylon (invented in the 1930s) and polyester (invented in the 1950s), but it also includes polyamides (known as nylon), aramids (aromatic polyamides), acrylic and modacrylic; olefin (polyethylene and polypropylene); and elastane and synthetic rubber (polyurethane), PVC (polyvinyl chloride) (Hallet and Johnston 2019, 183; Fashionary Team 2021, 17). Nylon was very profitable from the start, while other synthetics, like acrylic (known by its name Orlon), polyester (Dacron or many other names like Trevira), and spandex (Lycra) took longer to win over consumers. Synthetic fibres were mostly accepted for their utilitarian virtues: they produce a soft fabric that drapes easily, holds garment shapes well, is highly durable, dries fast, is iron-free, introduced the freedom of the wash-and-wear, provides pill resistance, resists mildew and soil, retains pleats set by heat, and takes dye well. Moreover, synthetic fibres are cheap. Today, polyester is by far the most common fibre, outselling even cotton. Fast fashion would not have been possible without synthetics in general and polyester in particular. On a global scale, synthetic fibres command sixty per cent of the fibre market.  

All processes of creating fibres out of natural or synthetic materials involve chemical processes: bleaching, dyeing, trimming, and many other finishing processes involve the use of chemicals. Moreover, the production of natural fibres involves depletion of natural recourses such as clean water. Consequently, the pollution of earth and water in the production, consumption, and discarding of fabrics are well documented by now (Fletcher 2008; Fletcher and Tham 2014). 

Contrary to intuition, natural fibres like cotton, wool or linen are not necessarily more sustainable than synthetic fibres (see for an extensive calculation Blackburn 2005, 112; for a recent debate see Early, 2019). Hallet and Johnston write “It is wrong to assume that man-made fibres are not eco-friendly; the next generation of man-made fibres could be a way towards completely sustainable production” (2019, 182). Although synthetics are part of the petrochemical industry, only one percent of petroleum is used for global production of all man-made synthetic fibres (idem). Polyester needs little land usage or water consumption in its production: it requires only a few cubic tons of water, whereas the same amount of cotton would need 20,000 cubic tons of water (188; Sherburne 2009, 8 and 15; St. Clair 2019, 180). Consumers are sometimes not aware that cellulose-based fabrics like rayon or bamboo require cutting down old-growth forests (St. Clair 2019, 219). In many ways, polyester and other synthetic fibres have a low carbon footprint.  

The objective is to make all fibres and fabrics degradable and renewable so that they can be safely reused and recycled. 

Orange Fiber is a textile material deriving from the orange juice production waste. It represents a crossroads between the fashion and food industry. The material is produced from food industry waste, to be used in the fashion supply chain. Furthermore, Orange fiber was conceived as a material able to connect two production chains characterized by geographical distance: the production of citrus fruits in Sicily (Southern Italy) and the textile manufacturing production of the North East of Italy.  

This natural fibre was conceived and created by Enrica Arena and Adriana Santocito, in partnership with the Politecnico di Milano. Orange Fiber was patented in Italy in 2013. In 2014 the international PCT was obtained too. 

Orange Fiber is one of the examples of recycling, as a process in which recycling and up-cycling are involved and strongly connected. Recycling tends to the transformation of products and materials, to generate cyclical and circular systems, in which materials and products can be separated and reintroduced into other productions. This goal embraces environmental sustainability but it is also focused on the local economic growth (Rinaldi, 2019). Recycling is therefore fundamental in defining the concept of circularity. 

The Orange Fiber concept was created considering the resources of the Sicily, the Italian region that the two founders are from. In particular, the idea builds on the great tradition of citrus fruit production and processing. This Italian sector produces more than 700,000 tons of citrus by-products every year. The process thus allows to transform these 700,000 tons of citrus by-products into a high performance textile material. On the one hand, this responds to the need for more ecological and eco-sustainable materials in the fashion industry. On the other hand, Orange Fiber relates to two geographically different production chains: 

  • The citrus fruit production chain in Sicily, Southern Italy; 
  • The textile manufacturing chain of North East Italy. 

Both of these supply chains embrace local knowledge and traditions. This fabric, therefore, combines creative and technological innovation and local production practices. 

From a consumption perspective, Orange Fiber responds to consumer demands for the safety and respect of the environment, reducing the impact of processing waste but also enhancing the quality of waste. It is an important issue, especially considering the per-capita consumption of textile fibres nowadays and in the past: in 1960 the per-capita consumption was 5 Kg; in 2000 it reached 8 kg. The per-capita consumption in 2015 amounted to approximately 13 kg (Richetti, 2017).  

From another point of view, the food industry involves many different processes, each of which produces final waste. Orange Fiber, and other textile materials deriving from food production and/or processing waste, therefore constitute a possible solution to a growing demand for fibres and fabrics in clothing and textile products while also addressing the food industry waste.  

Some examples of uses of orange fibre are: 

  • Salvatore Ferragamo collection, presented for the Earth Day, 22 April 2017. 
  • H&M Capsule Conscious Exclusive Collection 2019 
  • Marinella exclusive collection of sustainable ties, pocket squares and lady silk scarves started in June 2019  


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Bédat, Maxine Unraveled. The Life and Death of a Garment. New York: Penguin, 2021.  

Black, S. ed. (2012) The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. Thames and Hudson. 

Blackburn, R.S. (ed.) (2005) Biodegradable and Sustainable Fibres. Oxford: Woodhead Publishing and CRC Press. 

Bramel, Sophie en Fauque, Claude, 2001. Le génie du pli permanent. 100 ans de modernité textile. Paris: Éditions de l’institut français de la mode. 

Brunnschweiler, David, John Hearle (eds). Polyester: 50 years of Achievement. Tomorrow’s Ideas & Profits. Manchester: The Textile Institute, 1993 

Fashionary Team (eds.) (2021). Textilepedia. The Complete Fabric Guide. Fashionary International Ltd. 

Fletcher, K. 2008. Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys. Oxford: Earthscan. 

Fletcher, K. & Tham, M. (eds.) (2014) Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion. Routledge. 

Forbes, 23 January 2018: 

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Handley, Susannah. Nylon: the story of a fashion revolution: a celebration of design from art silk to nylon and thinking fibres. JHU Press, 1999. 

O’Connor, Kaori, Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America, Routledge 2014. 

Orange Fiber, website:  

Postrel, Virginia, The Fabric of Civilization. How Textiles Made the World, New York: Basic Books, 2020. 

Richetti, Marco [ed.] (2017) Moda. Neomateriali per l’economia circolare. Ambiente, Milano.  

Rinaldi Francesca Romana and Elisabetta Amadei (2019) Managing Circularity in Fashion. In Francesca Romana Rinaldi [ed.] Fashion Industry 2030, Egea editore, Milano University Press. 

Sherburne, A., ‘Achieving sustainable textiles: a designer’s perspective’. In R.S. Blackburn, (ed.) (2009) Sustainable Textiles: Life Cycle and Environmental Impact. Oxford: Woodhead Publishing and CRC Press. 

St. Clair, Kassia, The Golden Thread. How Fabric Changed History. New York: Liveright Publishing, 20 19. 

Trocmé, Suzanne, Fabric. London: Mitchell Beazley, imprint of Octopus, 2022. 

Vanity Fair, 19 april 201, about the Ferragamo’s collection: