Pineapples aren’t just good to eat, they are a great alternative to existing textile and leather, too. Well, pineapple leaves, at least.
This was something Dr. Carmen Hijosa, founder of Ananas Anam, discovered during her visit to the Philippines in the 1990s. At that time, she was sent by the Design Centre Philippines to help improve the leather industry, but little did she know that this was where the journey of Piñatex would begin. She witnessed firsthand all the environmental damage caused by mass leather production and the toxic chemicals that pollute waters that tend to harm animals and humans. “I realized to my horror, that it is so unsustainable,” she shares. “It was so shocking to me that I decided there and then, in your country, that I wasn’t going to use leather anymore.”
For someone who has been working with leather for 15 years, Dr. Hijosa’s decision to abstain from it cold turkey was definitely not a light one to make. While she didn’t know exactly what to do she had the perseverance and “incredible trust that something could or would come along the way.”
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Inspired by the abundance of natural resources in the country and the skill of weaving garments from plant fibers that many Filipinos possess, she started working with the discarded leaves of the pineapple fruit. “These fibers have been used in the Philippines for 400 years,” she explains. “What I am doing is not something new or a huge discovery. What I’m doing is transforming something that is done traditionally into a new industry.”
To Dr. Carmen, there isn’t such a thing as waste. “It’s a perception we have in our mind. Everything can be useful.” Using pineapple leaves as an alternative to textile is just the tip of Dr. Carmen’s mission for the company. The company’s values are also strongly anchored in which she refers to as the “Circular Economy and Cradle to Cradle approach.” This means that the product should be able to biodegrade and is easily reusable if necessary. Pineapple leaves do just that. She explained, “Once the fibers have been stripped from the leaves, the leftover biomass is retained to use as a natural fertilizer or biofuel. This can become another economic prospect to look into further.” As pineapples are heavily abundant across the world and require no additional environment resources, the leaves make it the perfect alternative by-product for textile for ecological concerns. But, in terms of quality, it’s also rich in fiber. “It’s so fine, strong, and flexible,” She says, “‘what if I make a mesh out of this?’ I asked myself. You know, a lot like how leather is.” And the rest is history.
After several years of research and development, Piñatex was created and is continuously being perfected and is now being used in the fashion, interior, and upholstery industry and will soon be entering the automotive industry. Her most recent collaboration, however, is working with Swedish clothing brand H&M for their Conscious Exclusives 2019 Collection, which they launch every April. The collection features silver Piñatex incorporated into jackets and boots. Apart from Piñatex, the collection also uses other low-impact, natural materials such as BLOOM Foam’s algae foam and Orange Fiber’s orange silk.
Here are some pieces from H&M’s Conscious Exclusive 2019 line as well as moments from the launch:
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Issa Pressman with Reiki Healer.
Joey Mead and H&M Head of Communications Dan Mejia.
Sisters Sam and Alex Godinez
Slip-ons made from BLOOM.
Top made from Orange Silk.
Dr. Carmen’s long-term goal for Ananas Anam among many others is to upscale Piñatex. “Expansion is really on top of the list. Pineapple is abundant. There’s plenty of this material all around the world and we’re using its leaves. So we’ve got so many possibilities.” Additionally, globalizing and making Piñatex a readily available by-product in the market and working with brands like H&M and Hugo Boss make it possible to create an additional income source for the farming community.
“I think it’s really important to us, to me personally, to know that we are giving employment in places that are usually challenged to provide for their families and children.” She adds that it’s also always important to “think about the three pillars of society which are ethics, ecology, and economy,” which her company is strongly driven by. “It is with these things,” She explains, “that something new with substance can come about.”
For more information on Conscious Exclusive, visit hm.com.