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Making silk-like fabric from old oranges

Orange Fiber won the first Global Change Award winner in 2016 with their innovation of creating textiles out of by-products from citrus juice production. Since then, the have made collections with for example Italian luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo and H&M. Here, co-founder Enrica Arena shares the story behind the company and about winning Global Change Award.

Enrica at Orange Fiber, winners of GCA

Orange Fiber is made from citrus juice by-products, repurposing them to create silk-like cellulose fabric. But how do you come up with the idea of making a luxurious fabric out of waste? We had a chat with Enrica Arena, one of the founders of Orange Fiber.

Can you describe Orange Fiber and its history?
Orange Fiber is an Italian company that has patented and manufactured sustainable fabrics for fashion from citrus juice by-products. Following a collaboration with Politecnico di Milano University, it has been developed with an innovative process that allows turning virtually more than 700,000 tonnes of by-product that the citrus processing industry produces every year in Italy into a high-quality fabric that can respond to the need for sustainability and innovation of fashion brands.

We presented the first prototypes of fabric from citrus juice by-product in 2014, at the Expo Gate of Milan during Vogue Fashion’s Night Out. The first pilot plant for the extraction of pulp from citrus was opened in December 2015 in Sicily.

Then, on Earth Day in 2017, the very first fashion collection made with the exclusive Orange Fiber fabric was launched by Salvatore Ferragamo — one of Italy’s top fashion houses and a world leader in the luxury industry. The collaboration represents the shared ethical values underlying the project, shaping the fabric and showcasing its potential for elegant and sustainable applications.

Sustainability and innovation, combined with the Made in Italy sign of quality, distinguish the product and make the company a reference for fashion players that cares about both environmental protection and exclusivity.

What has winning Global Change Award meant to you?
In 2015, we were selected among 2,700 projects from 112 different countries and awarded with a grant of €150,000 and a year of acceleration program. Having the availability of the grant, together with this specialized support, gave us the chance to achieve great progress in the development of our project, laying a solid foundation for the future of our company.

What was the accelerator year like, how did that impact you?
It was amazing! Through the Innovation Accelerator, we have been supported over the course of a year to help analyse and develop our product while participating in a series of activities and international events. We have learnt a huge amount about the impact of sustainable processes throughout the value chain and we have had the unique chance to further connect the dots in the fashion industry and start building a network with key people within fashion production, sales, materials, innovation and sustainability.

What has been your focus since winning the award?
Since then, our focus has been to grow up, as a company and as professionals — improving our project and increasing our commitment to a greener fashion industry. On a practical level, we understood what was needed for the company to grow out of the “startup zone”, and what the international fashion industry looks like. We focused on improving the production process, how to make it scalable and increase our impact and also how to make our product appealing for brands. Last but not least, we are looking for investor and partners at a global scale to make our dream of a greener fashion industry a reality as soon as possible.

What do you hope for, looking ahead?
For the future, we hope to establish ourselves as the first Italian mover in the segment of sustainable fabrics through a “green” production of cellulosic fabrics from renewable sources, and to create a highly recognisable textile brand for its commitment toward environmental protection and transparency. Further, we want to expand our production outside of Europe in order to increase our impact and minimise our logistics, keeping in mind our sustainability goal.

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