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sustainable alternative to denim

 Buenos Aires - The Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) of Medellín, Colombia, received the patent for the creation of a material based on fique fiber that could be a sustainable option to the traditional textiles that are used for the manufacture of garments. Jean. As explained from the university, the fique is a plant of the agavaceae family that occurs mainly in the departments of Antioquia, El Cauca and Nariño. The fibers that are extracted from the vegetable are marketed to make ropes and packaging to export the coffee.

 The bases of the fique project

The idea arose from the degree work of Professor María Clara Restrepo, a professor at the School of Architecture and Design who has a costume design program, who had been working with Fiqueras communities for 10 years. "She was very permeated by the fiquera population, she had focused on the part of handicrafts and training of artisans in the work with fiber," says Cristina Castro, teacher and researcher who met Restrepo while she was studying her master's degree.

“The raw material that is most used in Colombia is cotton, but 50 percent must be imported, so we began to investigate what fibers were produced here and we are the only industrial producers of fique fiber. On the other indicator, as part of the research, I also realized that the most consumed fashion product is denim. While Japan is the country that consumes the least denim with approximately 1 garment per inhabitant, in Colombia we have 9 garments per inhabitant. So from the beginning, the use of fiber in the most widely consumed product was considered ”, explains Restrepo.

Of the fique fiber that is extracted from the plant's leaf, a part is used to produce ropes and packaging, then there remains a part that the researchers found interesting for the possibility of getting closer to the properties of cotton fiber in the best way . "That is to say, that it maintains the length of the cotton, that it is very thin and that it has a pleasant touch similar to cotton. So that fiber has great potential for the development of these textile bases, ”says Castro.

 Business support

From the University they had been working on other textile projects with Expofaro, one of the most important laundries in Colombia, so they decided to expose them the initiative of the new development: “Expofaro has a great experience working with jeanswear, so we approached them and told them what we needed. They liked the project, they are also very permeated by sustainability. So they opened the doors for us both to use the equipment and to work with the equipment, ”says Castro.

Expofaro has more than 30 years of experience in the Colombian textile sector, developing garments for Levi's Latin America and Diesel, among others. That is why they have all the machinery for this type of product so it became a strategic ally of the project. “When Cristina and María Clara arrived with the fiberglass rolls, I never imagined that they could be turned into a jean, it was a great surprise. We started doing all of our laundry processes for it and we saw that the fiber accepted them, so it has enormous potential. Levi's with all its worldwide policy of using less water, is also very interested in all this. So we connected with the project one by one ”, says John Alejandro Sanchez, Expofaro's Technical Manager. In addition, in the laundry, they have done dyeing tests, achieving a color appearance very similar to that of denim.

 Product validation

To make the thread and fabric, the team had to use traditional cotton machinery with a mounted warp, so they managed to make jeans with 50 percent fique, 50 percent cotton in the weft. "That gave us a great standpoint on the behavior of the fiber," says Restrepo. To continue with the development they have also turned to other textile companies to make the yarns and use the looms. "We have been able to validate the product by making several prototypes, including 4 bluejeans and other garments with the material."

What's coming

Regarding the next stage of development, Restrepo says that they are working to strengthen all the links in the production chain: “The idea from this is to be able to determine costs, the water footprint and the carbon footprint. What we do know today is that, compared to cotton fiber, fique fiber does not need irrigation and is not attacked by pests. It has a lower water and carbon footprint than cotton, but it is necessary to fully validate the entire process. A kilo of cotton is worth 5500 pesos in Colombia and a kilo of fique is worth 2900. There is a good difference in the price of the fiber as such ”. In addition, they are already in talks with different companies to see how to take advantage of this material to specify its use and reach consumers.

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