Piñatex leather, 100%... pineapple!

Posted on 20 May 2016.

Inspired by a Filipino ceremonial costume, the Spanish designer Carmen Hijosa has developed a 100% natural leather made from pineapple leaf fibers.

How do you make a beautiful bag without using leather? How do you avoid animal exploitation and all the environmental problems caused by factory farming and the different steps required for processing skins? Finding an alternative to leather was Carmen Hijos’s starting point.

After fifteen years in the leather industry, the Spanish designer traveled to the Philippines in the 1990s where she carefully observed the expertise and the use of natural fibers in the production of local products - and was amazed to discover the Barong Tagalog, a traditional ceremonial costume worn by Filipino men. Made from pineapple leaf fibers, the Barong is a both thin and strong natural plant textile. Carmen Hijosa had found her vegan alternative to leather!

After several years of research and development - at 62 she even obtained a doctorate in textile innovation from the Royal College of Art in London - Carmen managed to develop Piñatex and founded her company, Ananas Anam. Once treated, this innovative material is very similar to leather; it can be worked in the same way to achieve different colors, textures and thicknesses depending on the final product. But unlike animal skin, it is durable and 100% plant-based. It is also about 30% cheaper.

The fibers that make up Piñatex are extracted from pineapple leaves that have been cut on plantations by Filipino farmers. They then undergo several mechanical, thermal and chemical processes to transform them into a strong, soft, flexible and multi-purpose non-woven textile. On average it takes 480 leaves, i.e. 16 pineapples, to produce 1 m² of fabric. The final step takes place in Spain and the UK where Ananas Anam teams bring Piñatex to life and develop numerous applications: garments, fashion accessories, furnishings, car interiors...

Because it is a byproduct of pineapple production, Piñatex does not require arable land or additional water resources - which minimizes the environmental impacts associated with its manufacture. Traditionally, farmers burn or just leave the pineapple leaves to rot in the open. Ananas Anam recovers this biomass, which can also be converted into organic fertilizer or biogas, and offers farmers a new source of income.

Many major brands, including Puma and Camper, along with individual designers, have developed prototypes - shoes, bags and decorative items – all made using Piñatex. Carmen Hijosa’s goal is now to mass produce the magic of Piñatex so that it becomes not only a sustainable alternative to leather, but also to all oil based synthetic materials.