Social entrepreneur and designer Dr. Carmen Hijosa founded Ananas Anam in 2011. She owned her own leather goods company from 1978-1995, and it was in the 1990s while working as a consultant to the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines when she discovered the qualities of pineapple leaf fibers, including their fineness and strength.
After this realization, Hijosa examined ways the fibers could be used to develop an alternative material. “The nonwoven industry became the bridge and tool to make this transformation possible,” she says.
Piñatex was initially developed in the Philippines, but much of the research and development is being done in the U.K. and Spain, where the finishing technology is being enhanced, Hijosa explains.
While the product is eco-friendly in that it’s a leather alternative (the leather making process uses a considerable amount of energy as well as chemicals, among other hazards), the Piñatex converting process shows additional sustainable features.
Since the pineapple leaf fibers are the by-product of the pineapple harvest, they are considered a waste product, according to the company. “At Ananas Anam, [we] take a waste product and convert it into a new and sustainable product, which brings benefits to the farming communities, [this being] the first stage of the Piñatex cycle,” Hijosa says.
A process called decortication then extracts the fibers from the leaves, which happens on the pineapple plantation. The by-product of this process is a biomass that can then be made into organic fertilizer or bio-gas, which can bring additional income to these farming communities, Hijosa explains.
Following the extraction, the fibers go through an industrial process, using needlepunch technology, to be converted into a nonwoven textile. “Piñatex offers a compelling new material, which has unique properties inherent in the fibers being used: strong tensile strength, finesses, takes color very well, is pliable and durable and all these properties are well maintained in the nonwoven substrate made from pineapple leaf fibers,” she adds.
When it comes to using Piñatex as a leather alterative, the unique textile can be used to make fashion items and accessories, home interiors and automotive and aeronautics interiors, according to the company. Hijosa says that Piñatex “is a high quality product at a lower price than leather” and is also lighter than leather.
In December, the Royal College of Art in London held the first public presentation of Piñatex, where participants showed off their designs created using Piñatex. Participants included known brands such as Puma, Camper and British designer Ally Capellino, among others. Hijosa even displayed her own creations using the material—some very chic phone accessories.
“The development of Piñatex is inspired by the Cradle-to-Cradle design principles, supporting ecological, social and innovative design and production,” Hijosa says, adding that the material combines these design principles with “innovative technical processes” to maximize benefits to the ecosystem. “From the pricing stand point, Piñatex will be positioned in the market between premium petroleum based textiles and leather, expecting to cost less than 15% of the current price of leather, and offer significant environmental benefits.”
When asked whether manufacturers are eager to use alternative materials like this, Hijosa says there is a huge opening in the market, where technical and petroleum based textiles have partially filled the void. “The arrival of a suitable material of natural origins such as Piñatex is likely to be a welcome addition in this growing market segment,” she adds.
Since the launch at the Royal College of Art, Hijosa says everyone from international brands and manufactures to designers and consumers have contacted the company.
Piñatex is expected to be available to manufactures later in 2015, and the company hopes to see select products made from the material hit the marketplace by the end of the year.