- The sari, a quintessential part of Bangladeshi culture and attire, is known for its vibrant colors and intricate designs.
- However, traditional sari production is often associated with resource-intensive processes that raise environmental concerns.
- A couple of Indigenous Marma and Manipuri communities in Bangladesh have taken the Bangladeshi fashion scene by storm with their unique creation: a sari woven entirely from banana fiber, considered a sustainable and biodegradable alternative.
In a remarkable fusion of tradition and innovation, a couple of Marma women and Manipuri men have taken the Bangladeshi fashion scene by storm with their unique creation: a sari woven entirely from banana fiber.
While this may not be a unique concept in the global context, it marks an exciting shift in the fashion landscape of Bangladesh, bringing environmental consciousness to the forefront.
The sari, a quintessential part of Bangladeshi culture and attire, is known for its vibrant colors and intricate designs.
However, traditional sari production is often associated with resource-intensive processes that raise environmental concerns.
Banana fiber is a sustainable and biodegradable alternative that is garnering attention worldwide.
Shaing has been working with fabrics for quite a long time, and the handloom was the subject of her post-graduate thesis while doing her master’s at a university in Australia.
She married Manipuri entrepreneur Guno Moni in 2006 and started working on Manipuri handicrafts in a market in Dhaka.
“We have been promoting the Manipuri handicrafts through our shop in Dhaka and did many experiments with Manipuri fabrics,” she told Mongabay over the phone.
But in December 2022, a call from then-Bandarban deputy commissioner Yasmin Parvin Tibriji opened a new door of discovery.
Yasmin at that time took the initiative of making various handicrafts using yarn made from banana plants.
Yasmin said that as a district administrator, she took various initiatives to improve the socioeconomic status of the people in the hilly region.
“From that desire, I thought of making yarn from the fiber of the banana plant but making saris from banana plant fiber was not so easy,” she said.
“I was asked whether I could make a file folder with banana fiber. I took seven days before coming up with any decision. I discussed it with my husband and after seeing the fiber, we found that it would be possible and we made some file folders,” she said.
Seeing the success, Yasmin gave Shaing an order to make 350 file folders from banana fiber, but Shaing declined, as they would not be commercially viable.
“As I was working with the saris for quite a long time, I proposed to her [Yasmin] that she can try to make a sari out of [banana fiber] but [she needed] a handloom and some manpower. Yasmin gave the financial support,” Shaing said.
Shaing then consulted with her husband and brought Radhavati Devi, from the Manipuri-populated Mahergao village of Kamalganj Upazila of Moulvibazar, to make a sari out of banana plant fiber.
“People know me as a skilled sari weaver, but I never thought of making sari out of banana fiber. We used banana leaves and stems for our worship purposes. So, I took it as a religious activity. First, I made a small piece of cloth using fiber and then a sari, which took eight days,” the 65-year-old Radhavati said.
Shaing said it requires almost a quarter-kilogram (about half a pound) of yarn to make a saree from a banana plant. “It would cost around 4,000 taka [$36]. But if technology is used and it can be produced commercially, the cost and time will be much less.”
Banana plantations are abundant in Bangladesh, making banana plants an ideal source of sustainable fashion materials.
The process begins with selecting the finest banana plants, typically grown organically. The banana leaves are carefully processed to extract delicate fibers, then spun into threads. These threads, renowned for their strength and flexibility, are woven into intricate patterns on traditional handlooms.
Experts say the environmental benefits of banana fiber are huge and multifaceted, with banana fiber production requiring fewer resources than conventional textiles, such as cotton.
“It consumes less water, pesticides and synthetic chemicals, contributing to a reduced environmental footprint. Banana fiber sari will decompose naturally, addressing concerns about textile waste and pollution in landfills,” Saber Hossain Chowdhury, special envoy to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for climate change, told Mongabay.
Terming the initiative excellent, Chowdhury said his government wholeheartedly supported this initiative and would extend cooperation if entrepreneurs come forward seeking any assistance.
“From a sustainability point of view, it has a huge appeal in the apparel industry, and it is an example of a nature-based solution, which we have been advocating in the global forum for quite a long time,” Chowdhury added.
He also said that clothes made out of banana viscose have two other advantages — one is to look and feel like silk products and the other is the high level of affordability.
Experts said such an initiative empowers local farmers who can generate additional income from their banana plants’ fibers.
“The idea of making yarn from the discarded banana plants is innovative and environment-friendly. It will reduce the burden on the environment, as the dying process pollutes the environment badly in most cases,” said Pavel Partha, director of Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK) and a biodiversity and ecology researcher.
He, however, said that at the same time, the impact of a sari made out of banana viscose needs to be considered, as it has environmental, ecological, social, cultural and economic aspects.
“It can flourish as a handicraft item, but it cannot be the alternative to cotton. Our cotton market is mainly based on artificial plastic-based cotton, and we have to spend a lot of money to import that cotton. So to reduce the dependency, we have to give importance to natural fibers,” he said, adding that importance should be given to other natural viscose.
Banner image: Radhavato Devi training an Indigenous woman to make sari with banana fiber. Image by Mintu Deshwara.
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