The fabric sample in my hands reminded me of something. Soft to the touch with a distinct textured surface and a sturdy feel, I think it you had given me leather to compare it to, I would have had a very hard time differentiating the two. What was this mysterious fabric? Why, Pineapple Leather Alternative!
I first heard of Pineapple “Leather” through my Sustainable Material Sourcing class at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). We were looking at new, innovative fashion materials, and I was immediately hooked on the fabric: how innovative, I thought, how different. A fun buzzword that I could tell my friends and family about!
What Pineapple Leather Is—And Isn’t
I had heard about vegan alternatives to leather—many human made from a plastic material called Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). PVC is a synthetic fiber that’s carbon-intensive, does not biodegrade and is toxic when it sits in landfills. But here was something made from plant material, specifically: PINEAPPLES? WHAT?
Wanting to learn more, I pinpointed the manufacturer of the material, Piñatex, to dig deeper.
As it turns out, the leather is not made from the pineapple fruit, but rather the leaf! Piñatex’s online homepage states, “The leaves are the byproduct of existing agriculture, and their use creates an additional income stream for farming communities.”
The company was founded by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, who while consulting on the leather export industry in the Philippines in the 1990s, was shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning. Realizing that PVC solutions were not an option since they were derived from petroleum and unable to biodegrade, she sought a sustainable alternative inspired by the traditional weaving of traditional Filipino Barong Tagalog garments.
Piñatex is currently the only manufacturer of pineapple “leather.” The leather alternative supports positive social and economic impact and has a low environmental footprint. And there’s plenty of it available as a byproduct of pineapple harvest.
However, leather isn’t the only material that can be made from pineapple leaves. A light, strong, and translucent fabric can also be made, called Piña. It’s often mixed with cotton, silk (piña seda), or abaca (banana leaf fibers).
Also made in the Philippines, “Piña is produced primarily in the Aklan region, with women from the area supporting their families through their craft of weaving,” according to textile site Synzenbe. Eco-Chick editor saw some of this fabric mixed with more traditional fabrics at several boutiques in Puerto Rico during her visit there in 2016.
How Pineapple Leather Is Made
In the Philippines, long fibers are extracted through a process called decortication by manufacturer Ananas Anam, get degummed and undergo an industrial process to become a non-woven mesh. Then it’s sent to Spain for finishing. The textile becomes soft, flexible, and durable, much like animal leathers. From there, a resin coating covers the leather providing wettability, durability, and elasticity to the final product.
Products made by Piñatex are PETA approved —so great for animal advocates and sustainability-minded folk alike. The products made from this material are water resistant and use GOTS certified pigments. Unfortunately, although the fibers that make up the product are 100% biodegradable, the petroleum-based resins are not. However, Piñatex does state that the company is currently in the works for a bio-based coating to push the company forward in the sustainability realm.
Pineapple Leather Put To Use
Companies using this innovative fiber include Rombaut, Liselore Frowijn, Votch and furnishing company, Tamasine Osher. There are even car seats being made from this material by company blue.cruiser solar car.
Designer Liselore Frowijn discovered the material on the internet in Spring of 2017 when researching a silver leather material and reading an interview with the founder Ananas Anam. “It’s a sustainable replacement for leather which is often made under environment polluting circumstances,” she says. Frowijin focuses on bags and coats, specifically biker jackets, overcoats, and capes made of the material because it is “flexible and versatile.”
As a designer, she’s really exploring the material’s functionality and aesthetic possibilities:
“Its surface changes when you start working with it, from a very shiny silver/gold it slowly shows wrinkles as if it’s alive. The fact that is comes from the pineapple leaf fibers makes it very exotic and innovative,” says Frowjiin. Thinking into the future of fashion design and production, she says: “I believe future designers should work more as farmers, together with factories: by growing their own materials or re-using existing materials and turning them into fabrics, instead of using new sources.”
Cruelty-free UK-based watch company Votch, shares a similar view on Piñatex’s faux leather innovation, which they currently use for the watch straps of their Classic and Moment timepiece range (above).
“We love being able to use this material and tell its story. Our customers find it fascinating they can wear a strap that was once made from pineapples. But not only that, no additional land, pesticides or water is used in the production of Pinatex, and it also generates additional income for farmers too,” says Laura Way, the founder of Votch.
Although products made with pineapple leather tend to have a higher price-point for now, more hype around the leather alternative should make the product more recognized which could mean lower costs and increased accessibility. Frowijn is hopeful that “many more brands will be starting to work with [pineapple leather].”
What is certain is that the pineapple leather industry is hitting many facets by promoting circularity, using organic material, and helping inspire one-of-a-kind designs.