Qwstion is a Swiss brand that makes premium bags made from banana plants
The problem with the fashion industry’s sustainability is not just the fact that they produce clothing in unsustainable amounts, but also that they use synthetic fibres such as polyester which cause great harm to the environment. The good news is that there are many innovative brands out there who are working to reduce the environmental damage.
Qwstion, a Swiss brand, is one of them. This label is based in Zurich and makes premium bags and accessories with Bananatex fabric, a proprietary fabric made from banana trees.
It is also known as “Banana hemp” in the Philippines, or “Abaca” in the Philippines. This is because it is grown there before being made into synthetic fabric. Current discussions revolve around the replacement of these fibres in an effort to clean up fashion industry.
Polyester, once regarded as a miracle fiber because of its light, cheap and durable properties has been the predominant material in garment production. It has been under fire in recent years because of the release microfibres. A 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) states that approximately 35 percent of all ocean microplastics came from the laundering of synthetic textiles such as polyester. These textiles were woven deep into the fabric of fast-fashion.
FashionUnited interviewed Christian Kaegi, Qwstion’s co-founder, about Bananatex and how the decision was made to open source the fabric. Also, what is the cost of sustainable fashion.
What fabrics did you use before Bananatex was invented?
We started with cotton, nonorganic, regular cotton. This was the only option that we had when we first started to find the right product for bags. Next came the creation of our own organic cotton canvas, which is GOTS certified. It is still used in some of our collections today. It comes from Turkey and it is processed in Hong Kong.
We also tested other materials such as hemp, bamboo and linen before we finally settled on cotton. These were all natural fibres that had an inherent strength. We needed this for our bags. However, we weren’t able to reach a satisfactory conclusion when we developed those fabrics.
What were your problems?
It was difficult to find reliable sources of these fibres. For strong rucksacks, we considered using nettle. This was a traditional material that was widely used in the past by the Swiss army around the 1920s-30s. However, there is no steady supply of nettle today.
We did find a European source for hemp. Although we set a goal to have the entire supply chain within a small geographic area of Switzerland, we ran into problems. The first step was to find a reliable source of hemp in Belgium. Next, the spinning would take place in Northern Italy. Finally, the weaving would take place on specially modified looms in Switzerland. The entire process required a trucking distance of approximately 4,000 km within Europe.
It was clear that doing it this way would have a greater environmental impact than what we could do in Asia. This realization ultimately led to our decision to travel to the area where we found the banana fiber.
What is the story behind Bananatex?
While researching hemp with our Asian partners, we also discussed the possibility of using banana fibre in a spinner. We were able to work with them on something because they were still in the early stages of their experimentation. This led to three years of experimentation that culminated in Bananatex, the textile we are most happy with.
Bananatex is essentially replacing our other materials, I’d say. We knew that Bananatex was performing as we expected and meeting all sustainability criteria so we implemented it across the entire range as soon as possible. You can see that around 80 percent of the products we have produced over the past two years has been Bananatex. In the next three-years, we expect nearly all of our products to use Bananatex.
What is the pricing structure of other fabrics?
Bananatex costs around 27 dollars per meter – which is a huge difference compared to Cordura, nylons, and polyesters that cost around 3-4 dollars per square metre. To put this in perspective, our organic cotton costs around 9 dollars per metre.
How did you manage to maintain the same price points?
We had to rethink everything about how we designed our bags after purchasing something so expensive. Bananatex’s first collection was very simple. We wanted to minimize the amount of parts in order to offset higher prices. This allowed us to reach a price that was still affordable for our target demographic. Although our prices have risen slightly, I believe it is ultimately due to the cost of sustainability.
The Martindale abrasion testing [a unit that quantifies the abrasion resistance textiles] is at around 30,000. This compares with Cordura’s thinner versions. Cordura of heavyweight might exceed 100,000. It is crucial to consider the ‘appropriateness of materials. This is an area where performance plastic-based materials have made great strides. You could literally carry a ton in your backpack, but it’s not necessary. We looked closely at the appropriateness of our designs and considered how much performance was needed for the intended purpose. This was our main focus. And the bags are biodegradable.
Yes. Yes. We switched our nylon threads to Tencel threads in late. Now, once you have removed the YKKZippers and metal hooks (which can both be recycled), you can simply put the Tencel threads on your compost. It has been gone for six months after we tested it. Our goal was to create a product made from plants that can be returned to nature and plants in the future.