This semester I am studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and I can confidently say that I have never seen more leather anywhere else than I have seen here. Florence is known as the leather capital of the world, and people from all over flock to this ancient city to buy leather goods. With all the leather that I am around everyday, I have been inspired to research some sustainable alternatives to leather.
Some popular alternatives to leather that I have researched are cork, recycled rubber, and bio-fabricated leather. However, one alternative sustainable leather material that stood out to me the most during my research is vegan pineapple leather!
It sounds a little bit crazy that it is now possible to produce leather from pineapples, but this project has been in the works since the 1990s. Piñatex and Piñayarn are registered trademarks of Ananas Aman. Ananas Aman are “the pioneers of innovative natural textiles from waste pineapple leaves.” Dr. Carmen Hijosa, the founder of Ananas Anam, began the journey of trying to create a new textile that had a small environmental impact throughout its life cycle while consulting on the Philippines leather export industry. Hijosa has a background in leather goods design and manufacturing and she is passionate about finding alternatives to leather. In 2015 Carmen Hijosa was awarded the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for sustainable innovation, and in the year after she was given the Innovate UK women in innovation award for sustainable materials.
What is pineapple leather?
Vegan pineapple leather, also known as piñatex, is a material that is made from a blend of pineapple leaf fibers, thermoplastic polyester, and petroleum-based resin. Pineapple leather is made to look and feel like leather, and no animal by-products are used in its production, which makes this product vegan.
The pineapple leaf fibers that are used in the pineapple leather come from the Phillipines and are then delivered to Spain for the application of a “unique finish”. According to Libertyleathergoods.com 10% of the Philippines’ agricultural exports come from pineapples, and traditionally only the fruit of the pineapple is sold while the leaves of the pineapple go to waste. The pineapple industry harvests 27.5 million tons of pineapples and generates over 76 million tons of waste pineapple leaves each year globally. Ananas Aman has found a way to utilize the leaves as the main ingredient in Piñatex instead of just discarding those leaves as waste. This product is benefiting Filipino farmers and the Filipino economy because the pineapple producers are producing less waste and selling more of their crops.
Thermoplastic polyester is the next most prominent material in piñatex. This material is a plastic polymer that becomes soft when it is heated and can be molded into any shape and size. When thermoplastic polyester is cooled it will then become hard and maintain its molded shape.
The final material that is used to make piñatex is petroleum based resin. This material is a synthetic polymer that comes from petroleum products and is known for its durability and heat resistance. The main use of petroleum resin is to finish the surface on the pineapple leather.
How is Piñatex produced?
First the pineapples are harvested and the plant leaves that are left on the ground after the harvest are collected. After, long fibers are extracted from the bundles of pineapple leaves using semi automatic machines. The extracted fibers are washed and then dried either naturally or in a drying oven during the rainy season in the Philippines. The dry fibers are then purified and the fibers turn into a fluffy material that then gets mixed with the thermoplastic polyester and gets mechanically processed to create Pinafelt. Pinafelt is a non woven mesh. The Pinafelt is then shipped from the Philippines to Spain or Italy for a specialized finish. Finally, the mesh is colored using GOTS certified pigments and a resin top coat is applied to give it strength, durability, and water resistance.
How much does pineapple leather cost?
Pineapple leather is less expensive than some (not all) natural animal leathers but more expensive than fully plastic based synthetic leather. 40 sq ft of pineapple leather would cost around $130.
What are the advantages to using pineapple leather?
Pineapple leather is more affordable, more lightweight, easier to care for, cruelty-free and vegan, durable, and more sustainable than real leather.
How sustainable is it really?
Piñatex is made up of 95% renewable resources and uses no hazardous chemicals in its production. Each linear meter of Piñatex prevents the equivalent of 12 kg of CO2 from being emitted. Pineapple leather is cruelty free and does not require harmful chemicals to produce, which makes it a more sustainable and ethical option for a leather look. Pinetex is a transparent and traceable product due to the close supervision of supply chains from the plant to the product.
Ananas Anam is a certified benefit corporation which means they have a high ethical and environmental performance. Their B Impact score is 80.5 compared to that of 50.9 for the average business. Pineapple leather is an advancement that takes big steps towards ethical material sourcing and recycling materials. Ananas Anam uses REACH compliant ingredients to manufacture Piñatex. REACH is a set of regulations in the European Union that aim to improve the protection of human health and the environment. Piñatex is a socially responsible company that creates new jobs and awards financial incentives to farmers to separate longer leaves from shorter ones.
“The implementation of Piñatex will have far-reaching societal and environmental benefits” - Clare Brass, Director of Ananas Anam
Ananas Anam brings socioeconomic stability to partner farming communities like the pineapple farms in the Philippines. The need for pineapple leaves provide job security and diversified income streams for the farmers as they are making money from selling the pineapple fruit and the leaves. Upwards of 300 jobs have been created in multiple areas to facilitate leaf gathering, fiber extraction, logistics, and quality control systems. These factors strengthen global value chains for rural development, poverty alleviation, and the environment.
The company business model revolves around reduce, reuse, and recycle. Ananas Anam aims to only use what is necessary and optimize their consumption of energy and raw materials.
Why does it matter?
Piñatex is available in a myriad of colors and finishes. Each unique color and finish combination can be used for bags, shoes, upholstery, jackets, blazers, shirts, dresses, and other accessories. Piñatex is also used to make home decor, curtains, and furniture. This material can change the face of leather products. Leather itself has always been a controversial material for the sustainable fashion business. At one point the main argument in favor of the leather industry was that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and it would be wasteful to not use the leather from the meat production. A new study published by Collective Fashion Justice finds that sending cow skin to the landfill to decompose will produce less of a negative environmental impact than tanning the cow skin for leather production. It is important to recognize the controversy with this study and this statement. Kerry Senior, director of Leather UK, says that the study's calculations are flawed and “it’s impossible to transform any raw material into something else without increasing its carbon footprint”. Regardless of people’s opinions about leather, piñatex is a great sustainable alternative to explore.
According to Vogue Business, “searches for “vegan leather” have increased by 69 percent year-on-year, according to global fashion search platform Lyst, and demand for “eco vegan leather” in particular has grown steadily — while searches for leather decreased by 3.5 per cent, according to the search platform.”
With the rise of interest in vegan leather piñatex has an opportunity to grow and become more mainstream. So far, piñatex has been used by over 1000 brands worldwide since its commercial launch in 2015. Sustainable alternatives to leather can have a large impact on the environment and contribute to the fashion industry becoming more sustainable.
If you are looking for a leather alternative that has a low environmental impact and high social responsibility, make sure to consider vegan pineapple leather as a substitute!