Sustainable Textile Innovations: Piñatex, the vegan alternative to leather
New materials, processes, and techniques are often the result of the successful merger of fashion and technology and help drive the industry towards a more sustainable future. Technological developments in the fashion and textile industry are undoubtedly one of the key factors driving real change in terms of sustainability, which is why FashionUnited aims to explore new materials and innovative processes which are being developed and tests around the globe in this new series.
After learning more about fabrics made from used coffee grounds and lotus fibers, FashionUnited turns its focus to a vegan alternative to leather, which is made from none other than pineapple leaves. Although the idea may sound unbelievable, Ananas Anman has developed a natural and non-woven textile out of pineapple leaves, known as Piñatex, which is remarkably similar to leather. The sustainable alternative was created by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, after she spent years working in the leather industry and saw first-hand the environmental and ethical impact of the material.
"The inspiration to use the fibres found in pineapple leaves came in part from the use of this raw material in traditional delicate fabrics," explains Hijosa, who also adds that it "the subsequential step to turn this innovation into a more robust textile which was also commercially viable was the result of many years of research and development." As a direct witness to the environmental consequences of tanning, Hijosa was personally inspired to develop Piñatex, as she foresaw the numerous benefits the new sustainable fabric could have on agricultural communities.
Piñatex: a sustainable and vegan alternative to leather
The result of years of work was the development of a new type of natural tissue, which is 100 percent vegan and sustainable as it is made from pineapple leaf fibres, a by-product from the pineapple harvest in the Philippines. "The fibres are extracted from the leaves during a process called decortication, which is done at the plantation by the farming community," explains the company in a statement.
"The fibres then undergo an industrial process to become a nonwoven textile, which is the base of Piñatex. The final step takes place at a textile finishing company in Spain, where our unique finishing process is done before being shipped all over the world." In addition, the by-product derived from the manufacturing process of Piñatex is biomass, which is converted into organic fertilizer or bio-gas and used by the farming communities, thereby closing the loop of the material's production.
Unlike the production process of traditional leather, the manufacturing process of Piñatex does not include the use of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which are harmful to both the environment and the people making the material. In addition, the material does not contain any animal by-products and is made from the waste of an existing industry, making it a more sustainable choice in comparison to leather. Piñatex is also said to be a strong, yet versatile, breathable, soft and flexible, material which can be easily printed on, stitched and cut making it suitable for a number of fashion products.
Piñatex has won a number of prizes over the years thanks to these unique characteristics. It was the first raw material to with the Innovation Award in 2015 and named the Grand Designs Green Hero in 2016. The brand was also named a certified cruelty-free label in 2015 by PETA. The fashion industry has responded very positively to Piñatex and there is already a wide range of brands which use or have sampled Piñatex, ranging from footwear, fashion accessories, clothing and interior furniture brands. For example, eco-activist Livia Firth recently wore a silver dress made from PiñatexORO, created by Italian designer Laura Strambi to the Met Gala. Brand including TimeIVChange, Alexandra K and Bourgeois already offer products made from Piñatex.
As news concerning the brand continues to grow, Piñatex is very aware that its next big step is to continue developing and stabilizing its supply chain to meet the growing demand for its pineapple leaf, in a way which does not compromise its mission and fundamental values concerning environmental, ethical, social and economic sustainability.
Photo: Courtesy of Piñatex