Stella McCartney once said, “using leather to make a handbag is cruel. But it’s also not modern, you’re not pushing innovation.” When it comes to polluting textile industries with deeply concerning ethical issues surrounding their production, leather is definitely up there. Made from cow skin, it is an ancient craft that’ been around for centuries. But if there’s every been a time for suitable modern day sustainable alternatives to leather to enter the fashion market, this is it. Recent years have seen an upsurge in production of alternatives to leather and non-leather items such as shes and bags are no longer synonymous with inferior quality.
Piñatex, whose name comes from the Spanish word “piña” meaning pineapple, and tex, as in textiles, is a new leather alternative made from the discarded leaves of pineapples.It competes with the traditional material in durability, look and feel and is starting to be picked up by fashion brands and Etsy retailers.
In 2015 Piñatex received the PETA Innovation Award, the first time a raw material has won it, and the organisation has also certified it as a ‘Vegan Fashion Label’. It also won a place among the finalists of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in the same year and won the 2016 UK Arts Foundation prize of £10,000 for material innovation.
Currently, new sustainable materials such as Piñatex are at a higher price point than conventional alternatives, especially when coupled with ethical production where workers are paid fairly. As a result, these products are not yet accessible for all consumers. The relatively high price by comparison for these items reflects the true cost of operating a sustainable business, where all the boxes of ecological and ethical considerations are checked. However, there is hope for larger distribution with big name brands in the future and continued use will bring the cost down in time.
Hailing from Spain and a post graduate of textiles at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Hijosa worked for years in the leather industry. This allowed her to be acutely aware of the ecological damage caused by the tanning process. “At the back of my head I was always looking for an alternative to leather,” she says. Fortunately, Hijosa was able to utilise her knowledge and experience to develop an alternative textile that is flexible, breathable, lightweight, strong and can be sewn, dyed and printed on.
The natural material is inspired by native traditional textiles called ‘barong tarong’ worn during ceremonies and special occasions in the Philippines and the pineapples used in its production are grown there. Hijosa’s breakthrough was when she discovered she could make a similar non-woven fabric from the long pineapple fibres through an industrial process. The fibres are cut up, layered and bonded together in a similar way to felt making. Varying thicknesses of the fabric can be produced, depending on its end use.
What makes Piñatex a sustainable textile?
- Reduced waste: pineapple leaves are a byproduct of the pineapple industry, fruit harvest, they do not need additional land, water or fertilisers to grow, resulting in a low environmental impact compared to other textile crops. “Globally, you’ve got about 25 million tonnes of pineapple waste a year which is either burnt or left to rot, so there is a lot of potential,” says Hijosa. An estimated 40,000 tonnes of this pineapple waste is generated globally each year. It is also available to purchase on a roll, avoiding the wastage caused by irregularly shaped leather hides.
- Economical factors: The process creates a biomass as a byproduct. This can be converted into fertiliser, meaning more income for the farmers.
- Animal friendly: No animals are raised (or killed) for the production of this leather alternative. Animal agriculture is a huge drain on natural resources.
- The material weighs less than a comparable amount of leather
- It’s biodegradable
As sustainable alternatives to toxic textiles enter the market, it’s vital that we focus on investing developments for new and alternative materials like Pinatex, as they offer promising solutions to the destructive effects of the fashion industry.