Abaca fabric is a fantastic natural and eco-friendly textile made of plant fibers similar to burlap or jute. It's a very versatile material used in many different applications, including clothing fabrics in the fashion industry.
Abaca is a leaf fiber that comes from Abaca plants (Musa Textilis). The abaca plant is native to the Philippines and is quite similar to banana trees.
Abaca fabric is highly durable, versatile, and breathable. It's carefully hand-woven on traditional wooden looms by villagers in the southern island Mindanao of the Philippines.
You can commonly find abaca fabric in packaging material for agricultural products, bags, luggage, and wallets. Manufacturers also use abaca for cordage, filters, geotextiles, and decorative items such as canvas, rugs, carpets, and curtains.
But there many different types and qualities of abaca fabrics. Textile producers often blend abaca fibers with other materials, natural or synthetic, to make various abaca fabrics.
Abaca textiles have amazing properties to create sustainable apparel, footwear, and accessories with a natural look and feel. They are ethical, eco-friendly, biodegradable, and compostable.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries globally. People are becoming increasingly aware of its disastrous impact on people, animals, and the planet.
So many brands and designers are looking for new types of fabrics to make affordable and sustainable clothing. Natural and eco-friendly fabrics like abaca have an important role to play for a more sustainable textile economy.
Here is everything you need to know about natural abaca fabric, its origin and qualities, and how it can be used for clothing.
In this article:
- What is abaca fabric?
- What is abaca fiber used for?
- Can abaca be used for clothes?
- How is abaca fabric made?
- Abaca fabric properties
- Abaca fabric benefits and drawbacks
- Environmental impact of abaca fabric
What is abaca fabric?
Abaca fabric is a natural textile made from plant-based fibers. It's made of extremely long, thin, and sturdy threads of plant material handwoven in a burlap-style cloth.
Abaca is a leaf fiber that comes from Abaca plants (Musa Textilis). The abaca plant is a species of banana native to the Philippines and its fiber was originally used for making twines and ropes.
Abaca fabric is a type of textile made from abaca plant fiber. Abaca is mainly composed of cellulose and lignin. Cellulose and lignin are major components of plant and wood fiber respectively.
Similar to other natural fibers (hemp, linen, ramie, jute,...), abaca fiber is collected from the bast or skin of the abaca plant. Abaca plants are harvested for their fiber extracted from the leaf stems.
Abaca is a multifunctional and traditional matting product that is also 100% eco-friendly and recyclable. Abaca is used in many applications and safe to place in an indoor or outdoor environment.
Abaca fabric is also known as Manila Hemp, a traditional textile from the Philippines. This long-lasting fabric is very sturdy and durable and capable of lasting for several years.
Abaca is traditionally grown as a commercial crop in the Philippines, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. It's a great source of lustrous fiber hand-woven on traditional wooden looms into various natural, sustainable, indigenous textiles.
What is abaca fiber used for?
In the western world, abaca isn't very popular. But it's widely used in the Philippines and East Asian countries for clothing, cordage, bags, and packaging. It has several uses and is a very versatile fabric.
Abaca fabric is used to make dresses, pants, shirts, coats, knits, shoes, hats, and accessories. It can also be hand-loomed to create rugs, carpets, curtains, and many other household textiles, furniture, packaging, and industrial materials.
Abaca is generally found in hammocks, matting, and cordage. Abaca rope is very durable, flexible, and water-resistant. It's one of the strongest natural fibers.
Nowadays, people use abaca in a variety of ways. Abaca is available in a wide range of colors, weaves, weights, strengths, and sizes. It's also often blended with other natural or synthetic fibers.
Abaca fabric makes great sachets, sacks, and shopping bags. It's an excellent material suitable for a wide range of projects, including rustic decorations.
Abaca is especially remarkable for decorative wall hangings, curtains, table runners, lampshades, placemats, banners, pillows, book covers, and tablecloths.
Can abaca be used for clothes?
Abaca is used in the textile and apparel industry to create clothing, bags, footwear, and accessories. It has amazing qualities to make natural and eco-friendly shirts, coats, knits, dresses, pants, shoes, hats, and more.
Abaca is a versatile, durable, natural, and relatively cheap fiber. It's often blended with other natural fibers to make it even better for clothing, softer and shiny.
Abaca fabric is an ideal eco-friendly fabric for apparel manufacturing in the fashion industry. Abaca is often too rough to be used alone for apparel production.
However, new softening techniques are being developed to make it more comfortable. Abaca gives a natural look and feel to any outfit and many designers consider using it.
How is abaca fabric made?
Abaca fabric is made from fibers extracted by a process called retting from the outer skin of the abaca plant (the stem and ribbon), then collected by stripping, which scrapes the fibrous material from the rest.
The abaca plant requires lots of rainfall, a warm and humid climate. It typically grows in tropical lowland areas with humidity above 60% without pesticides or fertilizers.
The abaca plants are planted at the start of the rainy season in well-drained loamy soil, using rhizomes. Abaca fields can be harvested every 3 to 8 months after an initial growth period that lasts between 12 and 25 months.
Abaca fabric is made using many different processing steps that have been the same for centuries. Its production involves water retting, a process where abaca stems are bundled together and immersed in water to soften.
The action of bacteria and enzymes taking up to 30 days in natural water makes the separation of the fiber from the stem possible.
After retting, the stripping process begins to collect the fibrous material and scrape off the rest. Abaca fibers are then transformed into textile yarn with the help of spinning wheels.
Lastly, abaca yarn undergoes dyeing or treatment to enhance its properties before being carefully hand-woven into fabrics by textile manufacturers.
Abaca fabric properties
Abaca fabric is strong, durable, dense, and very versatile. It's a completely natural material with good insulating and anti-static properties, low thermal conductivity, and moderate moisture retention.
Abaca fabric is an original and natural material with many unique properties. It's generally used in the same applications as burlap or jute in the apparel, footwear, furniture, upholstery industry.
Abaca fabric is highly breathable. It has a low environmental impact, being recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable.
Abaca fabric can also be easily dyed in brilliant colors. It accepts all sorts of dyes such as natural, vat, sulfur, reactive dyes, and pigments.
Unfortunately, abaca is a natural material that isn't resistant to attacks from insects, moths, molds, fungi, and many everyday chemicals.
Abaca fabric benefits and drawbacks
Here are some of the best benefits of abaca fabric:
- high breathability
- high strength
- high durability
- very cheap
- very dense
- very versatile
- natural feel and look
- low thermal conductivity
- good enough moisture regain
- easily blended
- easily dyed
- low environmental impact
The main drawbacks of using abaca fabric are:
- prone to wrinkling
- change color in sunlight
- low comfort
- lower strength when wet
- low chemical resistance
- low resistance to insects, moths, molds, fungi
Environmental impact of abaca fabric
Abaca is an environmentally friendly fiber, ideal to make sustainable fabrics and fashion textiles. It's a natural, durable, 100% bio-degradable, compostable, and recyclable material.
The abaca plant doesn't require any fertilizers or pesticides to grow, as opposed to cotton. In addition, abaca doesn't release microfibers that pollute waterways and the oceans.
Products made of abaca also don't generate toxic gases when burnt. They don't pollute the environment and don't make any waste.
Cultivating abaca also increases soil quality and fertility for future crops. The abaca plant returns nutrients to the soil and makes fertilizers obsolete.
Harvested every 3 to 8 months after an initial growth period and offering large crop yields, abaca is a perfectly viable and eco-friendly alternative.
Abaca has an overall positive impact on the environment, even if its production remains costly and labor-intensive.
However, it would become more economical if mass-produced as natural fibers are gaining in popularity. The demand for abaca in green textiles and soft furnishings is growing.
Abaca is one of the few natural fibers that provide so many environmental benefits. But most abaca producers are independent and locally owned. And the majority of their products are sold locally and not being exported to the western world.
Before purchasing any abaca product, make sure to check the origin of the raw materials. Buy products from independent companies using natural and organic production methods.
Don't support corporations that own abaca producers and exploit local communities without giving back, encouraging unsustainable production processes.
Workers' exploitation and farmers' impoverishment aren't necessary to create affordable, durable, and high-quality products.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.
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