Interview with the revolutionizing boss woman founder of Orange Fiber: Enrica Arena

Reading Time: 5 min

An Italian woman leading an entire industry transition—giving new life to citrus juice by-products by weaving them into high quality fabrics for conscious fashion brands. So far her products have attracted the likes of Fashion namesakes such as Salvatore Ferragamo and H&M. Finally a way to close the loop in the hopes of turning fashion circular.

Firstly, tell us your story…

Orange Fiber is the Italian company founded in 2014 by Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena that patented and manufactures sustainable fabrics for Fashion Industry from citrus juice by-product.
Enrica Arena
Our adventure started at the end of 2011 in Milan, when we were finishing our studies and sharing a flat. Adriana Santanocito wanted to become a fashion designer with an innovative and sustainable product and I wanted to get a job in line with my idea of sustainable development and social entrepreneurship. We had different backgrounds but we shared the dream of changing the world starting from our country – Italy – and region – Sicily – using our skills and passion.

1. How did you first realize that you could produce textiles from citrus juice by-products?

We realized that we could really create fabrics from citrus juice by-products following the collaboration with the Politecnico di Milano University back in 2012.

2. How long did it take you to develop a ready to market fabric? 

Orange Fiber was founded in 2014 and the market validation of our fabrics has arrived in 2017 with the Ferragamo Orange Fiber Collection, the very first fashion collection created with our sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products and distributed in the main flagship stores of the brand in Italy and abroad.

3. How did you finance such a huge innovation? Private capital, grants etc? 

Thanks to our business angels we moved the first steps to transform our idea in a concrete startup; thanks to the funds received by Seed Money, Trentino Sviluppo (Operational Program FERS 2007-2013 of the Autonomous Province of Trento with the contribution of the European Fund for Regional Development) we developed the first fabric prototypes; thanks to Smart & Start, Invitalia (Ministry of Economic Development) we opened our first pilot plant in Sicily and thanks to the grant received by winning the Global Change Award in 2015 we finalized the very first industrial production that has been used to launch the first fashion collection with our fabrics.

In 2019 we raised 650,000 euros through an equity crowdfunding campaign. Thanks to these funds now we are working to optimize the industrial process and increase our production capacity up to 60 tons of citrus cellulose.

4. Did either of you work in the textile industry before? 

No. I have obtained a degree in International Cooperation for Development and in Communications and I have worked in the communication field for the non-profit sector and as project manager for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and UNDP-Egypt, where my passion in social entrepreneurship as a driving force for growth started.

5. Why do you mainly use citrus juice by-products? Could you use other by-products too?

In Italy every year, more than 700.000 tons of citrus juice by-products are produced. The disposal of these 5 has important economic and environmental costs, but until a few years ago, no one had developed a viable alternative to disposal.

On the other hand, we face an ever-increasing number of consumers demanding sustainable materials and of fashion brands seeking green innovation.

It is for these reasons that we have worked to unite oranges, which are typical of Sicily, and world-renown Italian excellence in textiles, developing a disruptive technology that creates an innovative material out of industrial by-products.

Seeing an opportunity where others only saw a problem, we envisioned a new life for these by-products and following a collaboration with Politecnico di Milano University back in 2012, we developed an innovative process to create a sustainable fabric using the leftovers of the citrus transformation industry.

Our innovative and patented process has the potential to reduce the costs and the environmental impact of pollution related to the industrial waste of citrus transformation,

addressing the need for sustainability and innovation in the fashion industry – the second largest industrial polluter in the world, second only to oil.

6. Walk us through your manufacturing process, how does it work? 

We developed and patented an innovative process to create a fabric from citrus juice by-products.

We process the leftovers of the citrus juice industry (the so-called ‘pastazzo’) in our pilot plant in Sicily, extracting the citrus cellulose apt to be spun, then we send it to a partner which is in charge of spinning it, then the yarn goes to our selected fabric producers, where our exclusive fabrics are finally made.

The result is a cellulose yarn with a silky feel that can be blended with other yarn and materials while transformed into a textile in order to satisfy all the fashion designer creation needs. If used pure, so developing an 100% citrus textile, the resulting fabric will be with a soft and silky feel, lightweight, opaque or shiny according to the production needs.

Orange Fiber has the same peculiarities of man-made cellulosic fibers and it can be used to create a different look and feel according to the designer’s needs.

In terms of quality, it can be dyed, coloured and printed as existing fabrics (inkjet printing and natural colors included).

Our solution offers the opportunity to satisfy the increasing need of cellulose for textile thus preserving natural resources.

Compared to existing man-made fibers from cellulose, either from wood or from hemp and bamboo, our fiber does not require dedicated yields alternative to food consumption or dwelling on natural resources, but reuses a waste thus saving land, water, fertilizers and environmental pollution.

7. What other mainstream material is most similar to orange fiber?

Our competition is represented on the one hand by the fabrics created from alternative sources (as the fabrics from pineapple by Pinatex) and on the other hand by those fabrics that can be assimilated to ours for their characteristics, as the Tencel.

8. How scalable and competitive is the orange/organic fiber production?

Orange Fiber’s production is highly scalable given the potential expansion of the business model, starting from an ingredient branding strategy for finished fabrics, then enlarging to the commercialization of fibres and yarns and finally moving to a technology licensing model.

Our competitive advantage arises from the origin of the fiber, the cutting edge production process, the international IP protection and the effective communication & marketing strategy.

9. Who is the ideal partner or customer?

We are committed to bringing sustainable design values to the fashion industry, helping those who wear our products to become not just consumers, but contributors to the Luxury 3.0 movement, the contemporary way to experience exclusivity and construct an ethical and sustainable lifestyle.

In this perspective, our ideal partners/customers are all the players in the fashion/home textile industry willing to promote environmental sustainability, product exclusivity and responsible consumption.

10. Have you thought of other potential industries that could use this technology to help them switch from resource extraction? How easy do you think such a shift would be?  

Enrica Arena
We are already working on research and development of potential alternative applications of our process and we look forward to achieving significant results in this area very soon.

11. Next steps or future goals?

Our next big steps are the launch of our new collection of fabrics – that we expect to have ready between January and February 2021 – and the announcement of our new fashion collaborations.

With our Orange Fiber we pursue the dream of creating a company making a difference and generating economic and social development through sustainable and circular models.

A full implementation of the project will:

  • reduce the quantity of waste to be disposed with a consequent reduction of C02 emissions
  • save natural resources and environment from textile and fashion industry impact
  • create a new market for the citrus sector

The journey is very challenging, but we believe that we are on the right path.


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