Italy is not only Goethe’s “country where the lemons bloom, the golden oranges glow in the dark foliage” – but also the country in which around 700,000 tons of acid-rich peels of pressed citrus fruits have to be disposed of as hazardous waste every year. That gave Adriana Santanocito the idea in 2011 to do something productive with the pods in order to relieve the juice industry, protect the environment and develop her own business model. Her idea: fine fabrics from fruit bowls.
The Sicilian from Catania was studying fashion design in Milan at the time. She told her friend Enrica Arena, also from Sicily and a student in Milan, about her idea, and she was quickly inspired by it. After all, it was about combining two excellent Italian products: fashion and oranges.
In 2014 the two young women founded their company Orange Fiber in Catania. In the city surrounded by citrus gardens at the foot of the smoke and fire-breathing Mount Etna, they began to experiment with taking cellulose from the “pastazzo”, the remains of juice extraction, and spinning it into a yarn reminiscent of silk. This is where their first fabrics emerged. And what sounds a bit like fairy tales – like straw that is spun into gold, for example – passed the reality test.
“Orange Fiber has been around for seven years now,” says Enrica Arena, who now runs the company alone. And adds with a wink: “No Italian government has survived that long.”
At first everything turned out splendidly. The two founders won numerous prizes in Italy and abroad and convinced the luxury goods company Ferragamo to bring out an “Orange Fiber Collection” that was supposed to celebrate Mediterranean creativity and give the fashion industry an ecological touch. Blouses, trousers and scarves, printed with floral motifs designed by the designer Mario Trimarchi.
The clothing group H&M soon followed, which also wanted to show a sense of sustainability with a collection by Orange Fiber. Orange Fiber also raised € 650,000 through crowdfunding. Since the fabric made from oranges can be easily mixed with other fabrics, printed and completely biodegradable, the Sicilians met with a lot of interest. They bought machines and now wanted to quickly expand production in order to be able to reliably supply the fashion market with larger quantities.
“But then came Covid-19,” says Enrica Arena. “The virus didn’t stop us, but it slowed us down. It also hit the fashion industry hard.” Orange Fiber can currently only produce 15 tons of cellulose a year. Now the Sicilian is hoping for autumn, when Corona will perhaps be halfway over. “Then we can finally expand. And open a showroom at our headquarters in Catania.” After all, Corona has a positive side effect: “We have become more conscious as consumers, we think better about what and how much we buy.” Since Orange Fiber recycles waste, it protects the environment and the climate. And that is also gaining importance in the world of fashion.
In the long term, Orange Fiber would like to produce so much and so cheaply that it can supply a wide audience beyond luxury labels and special collections. Raw material – the peels of oranges, lemons or mandarins – is abundant in Sicily in particular. And the fabrics of the young company not only lie on the skin like silk, but are also supposed to care for it: with tiny capsules with essential citrus oils that are released when worn.