The sleek backpacks, now available in stores in Copenhagen and Zurich, started their life in a forest in the Philippines, where banana plant fibres are harvested to turn into a new type of technical material.
Qwstion, the Swiss brand that makes the bags, spent the last few years working with a yarn specialist to design the fabric. The outcome of this: Bananatex. Now the company wants to help other brands use it to start replacing polyester and other plastic-based material.
The company was motivated by the fact that polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibres made from fossil fuels dominate the market for outdoor clothing and accessories, and like other forms of plastic, the fabrics are rarely recycled. “We immediately saw that this needed an alternative,” says Hannes Schönegger, cofounder and CEO of Qwstion.
The brand, a collective of designers and entrepreneurs that launched a decade ago, has experimented with hemp, bamboo, linen, and other materials in the past. Four years ago, they learned about abacá, a plant in the banana family that produces long fibres that are sometimes used to make rope or paper; the fruit it produces is different from the kind commonly found in supermarkets and isn’t eaten. In early experiments, the team realized that it could work well as a material for bags. “We saw how resilient the fabric is and how long-lasting, so we decided that this had potential and kept developing it,” says Schönegger.
Qwstion worked with partners in Taiwan to figure out how to make a high-quality fabric from the fiber, a process that took years of effort. The fibres are first made into a thin but strong paper, and then the paper is cut into thin strips and twisted into a fine yarn and woven into a high-density canvas. The result is soft and very lightweight, but also strong, ideally suited for a backpack. A natural wax coating makes the fabric water-resistant. The finished bags contain no plastic; the backpacks roll to close rather than using a zipper. At the end of its life, the product is biodegradable.