Piñatex – from Pineapples to Leather (the Good Kind)

By now, you have probably already heard of Piñatex- a sustainably-produced fashion material made from piña (Spanish for pineapple) leaves, and interestingly began its journey in the Philippines.

The Piñatex Story

Some time in the ’90s, Dr. Carmen Hijosa worked as a specialist in the design and manufacture of leather goods. Visiting a tannery in the Philippines led her to witness the true and devastating impact mass leather production has on people and the environment. Upon leaving the country, she was determined to find a more sustainable alternative to leather. She resigned from her job to spend the next seven years researching and developing what is now a patented material and successfully founded Ananas Anam – manufacturer and supplier of Piñatex to businesses.

Piñatex founder Dr. Carmen Hijos

Image credit: David Stewart for Wired Magazine

Piñatex Features

Plant fibres have always been used in traditional weaving in the Philippines. Barong Tagalog – the traditional Filipino attire is either made out of Jusi (mechanically woven from abaca or banana fiber) or Piña (hand-loomed pineapple fiber). Both plants grow abundantly here, but pineapple in particular, as Dr. Hijosa discovered is a fine, flexible and durable raw material ideal for creating a non-woven substitute to leather.

If you’re wondering how Piñatex is made, the process is inspired by the Cradle to Cradle design and the steps are explained in detail at Ananas Anam’s website.  But since you’re already here, it goes like this: the farmers separate the long leaf fibers of the pineapple leaves using an automated decorticating machine. What’s left is the biomass, which is used back to the soil as an organic fertilizer. The fibres are then degummed and go through industrial processing to become a non-woven mesh. The rolls of non-woven mesh is then sent to Barcelona for final processing.

pineapple leaves

Piñatex is a versatile material that can be dyed and treated to achieve varying textures, colours and thickness. It is soft, flexible yet durable so it can be cut, stitched, embroidered and used to create shoes, bags, accessories, furnishing, upholstery or practically anything you can make with traditional fabric.

It looks a lot like leather and often referred to as vegan leather. However, unlike other types of synthetic leather, it is petroleum-free and the processing does not involve the use of any harmful chemicals.

pinatex fiber

Why a Good Alternative

First of, no animals are killed in its production. How unquestionably amazing is that! FYI, Piñatex is a PETA certified cruelty free label.

The leaves are a byproduct of the pineapple harvest so no new resources – land, water, energy – are necessary to produce the raw material. As mentioned above, even what’s left of the pineapple leaves is used to fertilize the fields so nothing is wasted. It is worth noting that the pineapple industry worldwide produces 40,000 tonnes of leaves each year – discarded and often left to rot or burned. To create 1 square metre of Piñatex, about 480 leaves from 16 pineapple plants are needed, so you can imagine the amount of waste kept out of the landfill and transformed into a useful material instead. At the same time, production of this innovative textile provides additional income to farming communities in the Philippines.

drying pinatex fiber

The base mesh is compostable. It isn’t 100% compostable at this time yet because it has a non-biodegradable top layer, but hopefully they soon find way around to make it extra durable and still fully biodegradable. I am not sure if there is an upcycling provision for products made out of Piñatex when they reach their end of life.  Perhaps this is something that Ananas Anam or  the brands that use Piñatex could also provide – method to separate the biodegradable mesh from its non-biodegradable component or remake them into a new product.

Workers are not exposed to toxic chemicals that can endanger their health.

It weighs and costs less than a comparable amount of leather, so that is also an advantage with shipping the material.

pinatex vegan leather

Sustainability & Slow Fashion

With the increasing awareness in sustainable and ethical manufacturing, Piñatex is enjoying positive response in the market and in fact is becoming a popular choice of material amongst eco-conscious designers across the globe, working with fashion labels like Bourgeois Boheme, Maniwala, Liselore Frowijn, Rombaut, Nae VeganPo-zu, and even Hugo Boss. In 2015, Dr Hijosa was a finalist of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and the following year, Piñatex won the 2016 Arts Foundation UK award for Material Innovation.

pinatex textiles

Have you bought something made out Piñatex and by which brand? Please share your thoughts in the Comment box below.


Source and All images via Ananas-Anam

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