27th June is International Pineapple Day (yes, that's a thing) – a day dedicated to a fruit which is much more versatile than you think. This tropical treat is not only amazing to slice on top of colourful cocktails, it can also be used to make fashion. More specifically, it's the main ingredient in one of the most prominent vegan leathers on the market – a vegan leather made from pineapple leaves – that's blowing minds at major fashion houses and making waves for animal-free progress.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.
What is pineapple leather – and why is it sustainable?
Pineapple leather, or Piñatex as it's called, came about in a time when the debate around the leather industry was just beginning to take hold – and the arguments in favour of leather centred heavily around the scarce sustainability credentials of the faux variety. Animal leather was described (somewhat disingenuously) as a “by-product” of the meat trade, which made it look almost like the leather industry was recovering waste by making cows' skins into bags, jackets, and shoes. At the same times, petroleum-derived faux leather was – rather correctly – labelled as “plastic”, and, as such, bad news for the environment.
But then came along the game changer: Brazilian material innovation company Ananas Anam. Founded by Dr Carmen Hijosa, Ananas Anam has harnessed the power of a natural resource that is a true by-product: the leaves of the pineapples. The long leaves which grow alongside the plant would typically be discarded as they are considered waste – pineapples only flower and fruit once, so when that process is done, the leaves are a surplus. But Ananas Anam has found a way to provide pineapple farmers in the Philippines, where their sources are located, with an additional stream of income by buying the leaves and transforming them into leather. The transformation process is achieved by felting the long fibres together, making a leather-like substrate. The leftover biomass can also be used as a fertiliser – who knew a pineapple could provide this much goodness?
Is Piñatex biodegradable?
A fully vegan material, Piñatex is 80% biodegradable – a considerable step up from traditional non-animal leathers, which are commonly made with petroleum-based fibres. The substrate itself, made from 80% pineapple leaf and 20% polylactic acid fibres (a vegetable-based plastic made from corn), is biodegradable in controlled conditions. Like many animal-free innovations in the leather area, Piñatex uses a coating made from petroleum resin, which halts its chances at full biodegradability. But, akin to many other innovations that humans create, Piñatex can be improved with time, and Ananas Anam is working on switching to a bio-based coating that would make the material wholly biodegradable.
What does Piñatex look like?
At its inception, Piñatex had a signature crinkly, uneven texture. But today, it can be made with smooth, grainy, and metallic finishes, which only raises its versatility. And fashion brands are taking note: the first major fashion house to dip its toe into the Piñatex pool was Hugo Boss, which created a range of men's pineapple leather shoes in 2018. Next in line was H&M – known for experimenting with innovative textiles in its Conscious Exclusive Collection, H&M included a pair of Piñatex boots and a Piñatex jacket in 2019. The latest adept is Chanel, having launched a hat made from gold-tone Piñatex in 2019. In a time when vegan fashion is creating buzz, Piñatex is leading the way, taking vegan leather from obscurity all the way onto the Fashion Week runways.
Which vegan brands use Piñatex?
One of Piñatex's biggest fans is Jessica Kruger, founder of the London label Luxtra, which specialises in high-end accessories made with plant leathers such as apple, cactus, and more. She told us: “Piñatex is my preferred material for creating products because it's by far the most eco-friendly of the materials out there on the market. I adore the fact that Piñatex transforms agricultural waste – pineapple leaves – and pays farmers for it, giving them an additional income. Ananas Anam, the company that makes Pinatex, is also a fellow B Corp, so I really trust that they're doing great things to make products more sustainable.”
Being certified as a B Corp is a great step forward for sustainably minded companies. It signals that the company balances profit goals with attention to the planet's well-being, meeting high standards of social and environmental performance and transparency. Reducing inequality, addressing poverty, minimising environmental impact and strengthening communities are a few of the goals that B Corps share. Ananas Anam became certified in 2020, further proving that pineapple leather is the eco-conscious material our planet needs.
Jessica Kruger closes by saying: “The look of Piñatex is different to your standard leather and leather-look materials, but I think that's great because leather isn't the only look to aspire to. Piñatex looks unique because it is! And that's something to talk about, not to shy away from. They're setting a new standard for how beautiful products can look.”
By Sascha Camilli
You can shop our Piñatex shoes, bags and accesories in our Piñatex edit.
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Feature image by Guru mtp
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