By Coral Brown
I heard it through the grapevine that pineapples are not only tasty and healthy, but they’re wearable too. And not just as part of a ridiculous (but delicious) Carmen Miranda fruit hat, but as an innovative, swish new sustainable textile that looks similar to leather.
In the 17th century, pineapples were the epitome of cool. In fact, they were so new, exciting and sought-after in Europe that there’s an oil painting celebrating the occasion King Charles II of England was presented with a pineapple in 1677. Now, history repeats itself as pineapples are once again new, exciting and sought-after. Only this time, they’re in the form of vegan leather sneakers, and to be fair, they haven’t appeared in any oil paintings with British royalty (yet).
Spanish designer Dr Carmen Hijosa is the brains behind this new material. She’d worked for years in the leather industry, and became keen to find a cruelty-free alternative to animal hide that was also planet-friendly. On one particular business visit to the Philippines, she had a lightbulb moment. She found that women in the Philippines wore traditional shirts made from the pineapple leaf fibres that were left over after harvesting the fruit. This sparked years of research and development into creating a new sustainable textile. And so Piñatex was born.
Since then, it’s been used by everyone from daring designers like (Philippine born) Ezra Santos, who stunned Dubai’s Fashion Forward event with his incredible gowns made from the stuff, to practical Puma, who have most recently launched a line of Piñatex footwear.
The environmental credentials of pineapple leather are strong. As Piñatex is made using a byproduct of harvesting pineapples, it requires no extra land, water, fertilisers or pesticides to produce. Worldwide, roughly 25 million tonnes of pineapple waste is either burnt or left to rot in the ground, explains Hijosa, so Piñatex scoops up an otherwise wasted material. And as your instincts might tell you, pineapple leather is biodegradable and recyclable. From a sustainability perspective, that’s a royal flush.
What’s more, Piñatex also helps the pineapple farming communities. By selling on pineapple leaf fibres, they now have a brand new way of making money simply from excess material. Plus, a handy side effect of the manufacturing of pineapple leaf fibres is that it creates organic fertiliser and biogas, which can either be used or sold by the farmers. Tidy.
After many years undergoing rigorous testing, the material officially meets international standards for durability, so it’s ready to be used in fashion. Brands have already started designing bags and shoes with this clever material. Some brands even have Piñatex products actually available to buy right here right now, such as Nae’s sneakers, Po Zu’s simple slip-ons, and the amazing Alexandra Groover’s vegan clutch bags. Meanwhile, other brands have pineapple leather products in development. We’ll be watching this space intently.
Aesthetically, the texture of the material can be manipulated to resemble both something as sturdy as leather or as fluffy as tulle. The texture has a natural feeling on the fingers, with an interesting grain. It can be dyed any colour, but so far, brands seem to be keeping to neutrals, such as the Original collection below, in classic leather hues. Conversely, the ORO collection ramps up the glamour, and more metallic hues soon to arrive on the menu.
From an ecological, social and animal welfare perspective, Piñatex is clearly a winner. We look forward to seeing this inventive new textile pop up across different fashion brands in the coming months. I hereby declare that pineapples have restored their status as the epitome of cool.