Wearable Pineapple Fibers as an Alternative to Leather!


It is a revelation when Philippine weddings see men wearing the Barong Tagalog, an embroidered garment that is made from fibers of pineapple leaves! These lengthy strands of leaves are thought to be a prospective substitute for leather in trainers, upholstery, bags, and a lot more.

This material from pineapple leaves was created by Carmen Hijosa, a consultant who worked in the leather industry of Philippines. The material was called Pinatex, from piῆa, a Spanish word for pineapple.

With her opinion on the standards of the goods that were being sold, she started on the lookout for alternatives. The tensile strength and the fineness attracted her to the pineapple fibers used in the Barong Tagalog which she thought of as a substitute for “beautiful bags”. The final revelation came to her when she realized that a non-woven mesh fabric bonded together without knitting or weaving could work well, similar to felt.

The fibers of Pinatex are extracted from pineapple leaves and, are then processed industrially which culminates into the textile. One of the by-products of this industrial process is a biomass that can be converted into fertilizer, which can be used by the farmers who work at the pineapple plantations, for extra income. These fibers have an appearance similar to canvas which allows them to be dyed, printed, and treated to give different types of texture. With different processing techniques, Pinatex can closely resemble leather and the thickness can be adjusted according to the desired final product.

According to Hijosa, the leather prices have witnessed a surge due to the fewer animals that are used to produce it and hence, it is no less than a luxury to own a leather product. Hijosa has been spending the last few years in the Royal College of Art for developing Pinatex, and the sample shoes have been made by Puma and Camper. Another designer, Ally Capellino has also used the material for making bags. Hijosa wanted the material used for the leather-like products to be environmentally friendly and, Pinatex and its by-products do not use additional land for production. This works favorably for mass production.

Pinatex was launched in London in late-2014 and the cost is currently about €18 per square meter whereas leather is anywhere between €20 and €30. The waste generated for Pinatex is around 5% while the leather’s share of waste goes up to about 25%. Hijosa strongly believes that consumers would indulge in the buying of such products that serve well to the environment, although its development in the market might take time.

“There are more and more brands looking for new and sustainable textiles, which is really the market position where we are placing ourselves. It is difficult, it has to perform, and will take time because now they are making the first prototypes, you may or may not buy it. It is neither the cool Converse nor is it a leather product so the market has to warm to it. A well-priced product is always a positive addition to the line of new products.” Hijosa said.

Future plans include delving into other uses for Pinatex. This might be used for anti-bacterial wound coverings as the material would allow circulation of air on the injury, and also potentially as insulation for homes.

Source: The Guardian.