Carmen Hijosa has a well-honed eye for beautiful things having worked with luxury leather goods for more than twenty years. Her Damascene moment came when a piece of consultancy work took her to a leather tannery in a developing country. The impact was laid bare, and shocking. Soon after she was engaged by a Philippine client to upgrade their leather goods for export. Rather than working with leather (which was imported), Carmen advised looking at local materials readily available in the Philippines. Over five years of research and development, and a PhD at the Royal College of Art, following culminating in the launch of Piñatex™, a natural and sustainable non-woven textile by Ananas Anam Ltd, backed by the InnovationRCA, and protected by patent.
Piñatex™ is made from fibres of pineapple leaves, which are usually discarded and left to rot when the fruit is harvested. The fine, flexible fibres are extracted from the leaf through a process called decortication. Once degummed, the fibres are surprisingly soft to the touch and breathable. They are processed into a non-woven mesh textile at a local factory in the Philippines, then shipped to a finishing factory near Barcelona, Spain. The company already has sufficient scale to meet orders of up to 500m of fabric in a variety of colours, finishes and thicknesses.
As the Piñatex’ pineapple fibres are a by-product of the fruit harvest, no extra water, fertilizers or pesticides are required to produce them. The textile, which is renewable, compostable, and tactile is also amazingly versatile as it is mouldable and easily dyed. It feels like felt, and is suitable for a range of finishes: waxed it looks like leather; embossed it looks like an animal or reptile skin (pictured above); and the metallic finish adds a whole new glamorous edge. The current water-resistant coating, while technically biodegradable, still contains a tiny amount of petro-chemicals, so Hijosa is working with Bangor University, supported by an innovation voucher from InCrops (specialists in biorenewables and bio-based products) to develop a completely compostable, non-petroleum based coating.
The textile has direct appeal to the fashion, accessories and furnishing industries. Having passed all the technical tests (ISO international standards for: seam rupture, tear resistance, tensile strength, light and colour fastness and abrasion resistance), a number of key brands are now using the textile to develop prototype products. At around £18 per metre, Pinatex is more economical than leather (typically around £30 per metre), and there is much less waste. The irregular shape of leather hides leads to significant wastage of around 25%, where as Pinatex is available on 218cm or 150cm wide rolls.
This week sees the first official presentation of Pinatex, the Pine-Apple Show, Imagine everyday through Piñatex™ at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, SW7 2EU from 12th -17th December. Prototype products made from Piñatex™ designed by Ally Capellino, Camper, Puma, John Jenkings in collaboration with Ulterior Design Upholstery, Patricia Moore, Dagmar Kestner, SmithMatthias and Julia Georgallis will be on show. The event is supported by the RCA, the Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre in London, underlining the potential for this product to support sustainable livelihoods.
Hijosa has worked in partnership with an agricultural co-operative in the Philippines to source the material. The fibres represent only 5% of the leaf, so the remaining biomass, the by-product of decortication, can be converted into organic fertiliser (typically the farmers’ greatest cost) or bio-gas. So Pinatex has the potential to offer the farmers two new revenue streams, from the fibres and the bio-mass. The process uses tried and tested technologies reducing barriers to scaleability. Hijosa aims to replicate the production in other geographies, providing sustainable livelihoods for agricultural communities, and perhaps introducing greater variety to the range of finishes and products based on different traditions. In time, and with the support of the Philippine Textile Research Institute, the existing finishing partners in Barcelona and Hijosa intend to develop the skills and knowledge to finish the textile in the Philippines.
PiñatexTM is more than a versatile non-woven, natural textile with great aesthetic and technical performance; the whole life-cycle of the textile has been designed and developed along Cradle2Cradle principles, in fact, Dr. Michael Braungart, author of “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” is assessing Hijosa’s PhD thesis. Pinatex is a story of innovation finding beauty and inspiration in the discarded.