How much did you pay for the pair of jeans you bought recently? The answer probably lies in the receipt in your pocket. But this receipt doesn’t mention a hidden, non-monetary cost incurred on your item of clothing, or even your t-shirt or dress.
To quantify the magnitude of this cost, it takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce one t-shirt, while a pair of jeans requires anywhere between 7,500 to 10,000 litres, which collectively amounts to drinking water for more than ten years for a person.
This is because cotton, which grows mainly in dry parts of the world, requires a high amount of water. A pair of jeans needs a kilo of cotton, costing a hefty price to the environment. The textile industry is a massive contributor to carbon emissions and covers about 10 per cent of all global emissions.
Surat-based Shreyans Kokra was appalled when he learnt of these startling statistics during his higher studies in entrepreneurship at Babson College, USA.
A chartered financial analyst by qualification, Shreyans belongs to a family that has been in the textile business for over four decades. “I’d never thought about how much damage the textile industry causes to the environment up until then. I wanted to mend old ways,” he tells The Better India.
Jeans from agri-waste
So when Shreyans returned to India, he started looking for alternatives to bring sustainability to the textile business.
He tried converting hemp plants into fibres, and eventually, fabric. However, two years of exploration and research turned out to be futile. “I learned that Surat, a major textile manufacturing hub in India, did not possess a technology to produce textiles in an environment-friendly manner,” the 28-year-old says.
The lack of equipment inspired Shreyans to develop a technology from scratch.
In 2017, he launched a startup, Canvaloop, by creating a proprietary technology that converts agricultural waste from pineapple, banana and hemp into textile grade fibre. In this method, the water requirement is reduced drastically, he says. “The technology helps reduce the water requirement to 10 litres. It is because the fabric is made from waste and does not require water to grow the raw material — in this case, plants,” Shreyans says.
He assures that the technology can break down complex agricultural waste into soft, comfortable fabric. Citing an example of banana fibre, Shreyans says, “The banana stem is cut and opened to drain the water inside and then dried to extract the fibre. Our technology processes the raw fibre through a series of treatments.”
The entrepreneur explains that the raw fibre is first treated with biochemicals. “It then undergoes a mechanical process followed by enzymatic treatment for softening and refining the material. The processed fibre from the different treatments results in a material similar to cotton. Rather, it is softer and lighter,” he says.
The processed material can then be converted into thread with the same machine used to convert cotton fibre into weaving material. “The thread now can be spun and woven into a textile machine used conventionally. It is our unique selling point, and no user has to buy a separate or different machine for the fibres,” he shares.
Shreyans says the technology was conceived with the help of two scientists and a research and development team. “We did abundant trial and error to come to the required product,” he says.
The obtained fibre is functionally superior and is more durable compared to cotton, Shreyans says. “The inherent strength of the material from agricultural waste is better and can withstand many more washes and usages. The outcome is because the core characteristics of the fibre do not change. The thread or fabric will come from bananas or any other agricultural produce but will look and feel as comfortable as cotton,” he says.
A similar process applies to pineapple, hemp and even stubble. “Stubble burning by farmers during the winter season is a major environmental concern, and our technology can contribute to mitigating the problem. However, we have not started using the stubble and plans for the same are underway,” Shreyans adds.
The entire process requires only 10 litres of water for a kilo of fibre and needs no chemicals, insecticides or pesticides. “The by-product is biodegradable and is used in the paper industry and fertiliser. The process generates zero waste,” Shreyans says.
A drop in an ocean
At present, the company is using pineapple leaves to make fabric. “We are in the process to rope in farmers from Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand and other Himalayan regions to source the hemp for industrial use,” he adds.
“Employment is a major concern in the Himalayan region and causes migration on a large scale. I hope to provide employment opportunities to the locals,” he says.
The company produces about 80 tonnes of fibre from agricultural waste in a month, which is woven into clothing by major global brands such as Arvind Textiles, Levis, Target, H&M and others. “The product is used more in countries like Australia and North America. In India, we have a store in Mumbai that offers jeans and clothing by the brand Slow,” he says.
He also notes that despite the success, sourcing agricultural waste remains a challenge. “Farmers have to be convinced not to burn their agricultural waste. They have to segregate the waste before we collect it, and training community members to do this is demanding at times. Moreover, the logistics to transport the material is a hindrance that we are trying to smoothen,” he adds.
Shreyans aims to motivate and inspire others to bring sustainability to the textile industry. “I have been able to make the sustainable switch, but the industry at large continues to follow the non-sustainable path. I hope to serve as an example to bring a larger difference in coming years,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu
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