Piñatex, an innovative and sustainable new fabric created from pineapple leaves bears a close resemblance to leather and may find its potential use in everyday use – clothing, shoes, furniture and more, reports Anuja Abraham
Dr Carmen Hijosa, creator of Piñatex and CEO of Ananas Anam, is the name behind the innovative material trending in the market today. This leather-like textured fabric, Piñatex (as is commercially known) is produced from the fibres of pineapple leaves, a by-product of the pineapple harvest.
Piñatex™ uses a patented technology which protects both the process and the finished material. The initial development work leading to Piñatex was originated in the Philippines and significant research and development is being undertaken between the UK and Spain to enhance the finishing technology.
In the late 90s, Hijosa would frequently travel to Philippines to update the leather fashion export markets; at that time she was working with a leather goods manufacturer in Ireland. But when she arrived here and researched into the leather manufacturing processes and their ecological consequences, she started to look at the country to gauge a potential ‘eco-friendly’ alternative to leather.
The country offered pineapple in abundance. Here she considered the advantages of pineapple leaf fibres; the leaves – very fine, strong and flexible – seemed to be a good alternative. “This quest, to develop a new material from a seed of an idea, had taken me to London, and to Royal College of Art to do research and development for six years through a PhD, which culminated in Piñatex. Following the intensive research and the ethical views behind this material, a new and sustainable material was created,” states Dr. Hijosa.
C2C Design Principle
The main principle of cradle to cradle (C2C) design principle is to upcycle raw materials so that they keep being used in either the biological cycle (natural cycle like Piñatex) or technical cycles. In other words, ‘waste=food’ either for the biological or technical product cycles. Piñatex uses an agricultural waste from the pineapple harvest and ‘upcycles’ this waste into a valuable end product, that brings employment and added value to the full supply chain, starting from the farming communities to the end consumer.
This innovative fabric represents many social and environmental benefits. Its manufacturing is sustainable as opposed to manufacturing of leather that includes use of high energy and results in wastage. The heavy use of polluting chemicals in tanning bears a hazardous impact on the environment. The transformation process causes highly volatile agents to be released in the air and pollute the environment.
The harvest of pineapples for the manufacture of Piñatex will definitely aid the farming communities in the Philippines that will benefit from the added income from the extraction of the fibre. The by-product of the fibre extraction also offers a potential use as biomass which will serve as fertilizers for farmers. Speaking on the durability of the fabric, Dr. Hijosa states, “The main component of Piñatex is pineapple leaf fibres (PALF). We also use polylactic fibres (PLA) which are man-made natural fibres. Piñatex is tested according to ISO international standards for seam rupture, tear and tensile strength, light and colour fastness, water spotting, flexing endurance, abrasion resistance. It is also water resistant.”
Towards the end of its life cycle, Piñatex can be recycled by either putting it back in the compost bin or upcycling it once more to make geotextiles or similar products. “However, right now we are still working on the biodegradability of Piñatex,” avers Dr. Hijosa.
Piñatex is currently being tested for sustainability and versatility in sectors ranging from textile to aviation such as fashion and accessories, upholstery, car and aircraft industries. As an alternative to leather, the use of Piñatex represents a great opportunity for the furniture and interior design industry also. Piñatex has gone through the key tests needed for furniture and performs well. Samples have already been made and are tested in the market.
“We have worked with furniture designers such as John Jenkins and Smith Matthias, (UK), Leon Leon in Mexico, and many other companies such as Po-zu (Shoes) and Ina Koelln (Bags),” cites Hijosa.
The company Ananas Anam is aggressively marketing the material. The products made of Piñatex will soon be available to purchase online, through select companies that are closely associated with them in the European Union nations such as The UK, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Holland and Spain amongst others.
“Our strategy is to promote Piñatex across social media and to develop digital marketing tools such as newsletters and daily posts on the website. This is fascinating to directly communicate with people supporting Piñatex,” says Hijosa.
The firm is considering the potential of other fruits and vegetables to recreate a sustainable fabric similar to Pinatex. And under the able guidance of Dr Hijosa’s, the company has plans to eventually move onto conducting research with other natural fibres. And it is really a matter of time before the revolution becomes a worldwide phenomenon.