FOR many years, we have been using the leaves of pineapples to produce piña fiber, which in turn is used to make barong tagalog and other Filipiniana dresses. Now there’s a new product made from pineapple fibers and it’s produced right here in the Philippines. It is called Piñatex®, a fabric that can replace animal leather.

Piñatex® was developed over many years of research and development ( R&D) by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a Spanish citizen and holder of a Ph.D. in Textiles from the Royal College of Art, London. With a background in leather goods design and manufacturing, Dr. Hijosa worked as an industry consultant and was brought to the Philippines by the Design Centre Philippines in the 1990s. That’s where it all began.

Dr. Hijosa witnessed the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning, so she searched for an alternative to leather. Inspired by the abundance of natural resources, including the use of plant fibers in traditional weaving such as the delicate Barong Tagalog garments, she sought to create a new, non-woven textile that could be commercially produced and have a low environmental impact. The result of her R&D is Piñatex.

The production of Piñatex starts with the extraction of fibers from the pineapple leaves after harvest. The fibers are washed then dried naturally by the sun, or during the rainy season in drying ovens. The dry fibers go through a purification process to remove any impurities which results in a fluff-like material. This fluff-like pineapple leaf fiber gets mixed with a corn-based polylactic acid and undergoes a mechanical process to create Piñafelt, a non-woven mesh that forms the base of all Piñatex collections. The rolls of Piñafelt are then shipped by boat from the Philippines to Spain or Italy for specialized finishing.

Piñatex is fit for use across fashion, accessories & upholstery and has been used by over 1000 brands worldwide including Hugo Boss, H&M and the Hilton Hotel Bankside. It is a versatile material that is suitable for footwear, bags, upholstery, clothing, pet leashes and more.

Piñatex fabric is not 100 percent biodegradable, as it contains polylactic acid (a thermoplastic polyester also known as bio-plastic) and polyurethane resin coating. However, it addresses several environmental issues like solid waste disposal because it utilizes discarded pineapple leaves. The Philippines is one of the top producers of pineapple in the world (No. 2 in 2018), so imagine all the agricultural waste generated by pineapple farms.

As a replacement for animal leather, the use of Piñatex can avoid the clearing of forests for pasture and pollution from leather tanning. The tanning process involves approximately 20 stages and 250 chemicals (including toxins and heavy metals such as hexavalent chromium, aldehyde, cyanide, zinc and lead) to halt decomposition. Untreated waste from leather tanneries pollutes the Marilao-Meycauyan-Obando river system in Bulacan.

The production of Piñatex also provides livelihood opportunities and additional income to pineapple farmers.