Piñatex, the brand name of a sustainable fabric made from pineapple leaves, is slowly finding its way onto the market, with shoe companies such as Puma and Carpenter now creating prototypes using the ecologically friendly textile.
The creator of Pinatex, Dr Carmen Hijosa, got the idea of using pineapple leaves as a fabric after working in the leather industry for years. Hijosa saw that leather was not sustainable as a product and was unimpressed with the standards of leather goods being produced. She looked for inspiration in the Philippines where she discovered the traditional Filipino formal shirt, the Barong Tagalog, made from pineapples, could easily work as a sustainable and strong alternative to leather. After five years of research, and a seven-year developing process, Piñatex officially went on the market in March 2016.
The material is made from the pineapples leaf fibres, a by-product of the harvest of pineapples, and allows the waste of the harvest to be minimised. The fibres are extracted from the pineapple leaves and cut up, layered and made into a mesh. They are then put through an industrial process which creates the finished textile. A byproduct of the process is a biomass which can be converted into fertiliser and put back onto the pineapple crops.
Leather arguably isn’t a sustainable or biodegradable product like Piñatex. The industry uses dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, and coal tar derivatives to preserve the skin and stop it from rotting. These chemicals often leak into water systems and contribute to global warming. As well as this, leather can take up to 50 years to break down, and the prices are at an all-time high because the demand for leather and hide in cars, shoes and furniture is increasing – China sells an average of 2 million cars a month, most of which are kitted with leather interiors. It’s getting more difficult to get hold of leather and, as prices continue to increase, it is becoming increasingly viewed as a luxury product.
With the leather industry in possible imminent collapse, could Piñatex be the future of ‘leather’? Hijosa has previously said: “We can make shoes, we can make bags. We can make chairs, sofas. It can be panelling. Eventually, it can be made into the interiors of cars, even linings.”
So why do we still need leather?
More than a billion animals (cows, sheep, dogs, cats, goats and more) are killed for their skin each year. China skins an estimated 2 million cats and dogs and this leather is rarely labelled. This is then exported across the world meaning that a lot of leather shoes and clothing bought in the UK or the USA is unknowingly made from the skins of cats and dogs. Most of the world’s cow leather comes from India, where some animals are skinned and dismembered while they are still conscious, and others are beaten and tortured. Swapping leather products for Piñatex could also save an unbelievable amount of lives.
Piñatex is also significantly cheaper than leather. The fabric sells for approximately £18 per square metre, whereas animal leather sells for approximately £67.
Piñatex only became commercially available last month, but hopefully as people realise the product is more sustainable, cheaper, ecologically friendly and cruelty-free than leather, we’re hoping it will soon catch on.
Here’s hoping that this magical wonder-fabric will one day mark the end of the leather industry.
NB: This article was originally published on 19/04/16