Leather is one of the most sought after and classic material in the fashion and retail industry. However, according to a China Water Risk study (2014), the leather industry is amongst the world’s top ten toxic polluters. Dr. Carmen Hijosa, who used to work in the leather industry and saw the substandard production of leather first hand, decided to take action and ameliorate the problem by developing a leather alternative.

Piñatex production process | Photo courtesy of Ananas Anam

Piñatex design processes | Photo courtesy of Smith Matthias

Hijosa realized that the long fibers of Pineapple leaves can be used to produce a non-woven mesh, which has a similar texture to leather. After seven years of research and experimentation, Hijosa developed Piñatex, a sustainable material that can act as a leather alternative.

Piñatex | Photo courtesy of Ananas Anam

In 2013, Hijosa launched Ananas Anam, a company that develops and manufactures Piñatex. The company strives to promote Piñatex, and provide an alternative fabric to designers who want to use sustainable materials that still performs as leather does.

Puma Piñatex prototype sneakers | Photo courtesy of Ecouterre

Many companies are starting to notice the great benefits of using Piñatex. Various finishing treatments can be applied to change its appearance. For example, it can be dyed, printed on, or manipulated to various thicknesses. Smith Matthias made prototype backpacks that are made with Piñatex, showing how Piñatex is sturdy and easy to manufacture. Puma and Camper also started prototyping shoes made with Piñatex (Ananas Anam, 2017). The product range is just as expansive, if not more, than that of leather’s.   

Piñatex products | Photo courtesy of Ananas Anam

Indeed, in many respects, Piñatex is superior to leather. Production of leather creates about 25% of waste, whereas Piñatex only creates 5% (including reusable biomass). Not only does Piñatex uses less water and energy to produce, the byproduct of the processing is a biomass that can be used for fertilizing crop farms (Hickey, 2014).

Smith Matthias Piñatex prototype bag | Photo courtesy of Smith Matthias

In addition to environmental benefits, there are also economic and social benefits. According to Ananas Anam, pineapple leaf fibers are usually a byproduct of pineapple farms, therefore does not require extra land, water or fertilizers (Ananas Anam, 2017). This means lowered fixed and capital costs, hence lower product prices. According to an article by The Guardian (2014), a square meter of Piñatex costs about £18, whereas the same amount in leather would cost up to £30.

Smith Matthias Piñatex prototype bag | Photo courtesy of Smith Matthias

The real cause for celebration is that Piñatex is not a compromise for developing environmentally friendly material, but it is in itself a great material. Piñatex is not only a textile applicable in the fashion industry, but it can also be used to make furniture, car upholstery, and even insulation for homes. While it will take some time for the market to fully warm up to this new material, Hijosa is positive that soon it will be a very popular material amongst all industries.

“References”

China Water Risk. 2014. Leather: Time for Business Unusual. [ONLINE] Available at: http://chinawaterrisk.org/resources/analysis-reviews/leather-time-for-business-unusual/. [Accessed 5 July 2017].

Ananas Anam. 2017. Introducing Piñatex™. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ananas-anam.com/piñatex/. [Accessed 5 July 2017].

S. Hickey, The Guardian. 2014. Wearable pineapple fibres could prove sustainable alternative to leather. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/dec/21/wearable-pineapple-leather-alternative. [Accessed 5 July 2017].