What’s your favourite food? Would you ever consider wearing it? These days, it’s almost impossible to go without seeing a headline for everything from wine leather to orange peel silk or algae-based sequins. And it’s not expected to stop anytime soon. In fact, the market for vegan leather alone is expected to grow to over $45 billion USD by 2025, almost doubling its current size. Thing is, all the newness leads to some confusion, misinformation, and sometimes even greenwashing. That’s why we’ve decided to launch a series curating the biggest and best new fantastic fibres, and where to find them. And pineapple leather is at the top of our list.
Where does it come from?
Pineapple leather has been making headlines for a few years already. It won one of PETA’s 2015 Innovation Awards, its inventor Dr. Carmen Hijosa won the 2015 Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for sustainable innovation, and brands like Hugo Boss are using it for their products. All pineapple leather on the market right now is patented and produced by one company selling it as Piñatex. Piñatex is a new ecofashion darling because it looks and acts just like leather, making it perfect for accessories, coats, and upholstery for people who love the edgy aesthetic of leather but hate its animal and environmental cost.
But why replace animal leather in the first place? Well, there is a lot wrong with it. The leather industry is a travesty for animal welfare and for the planet. Raising cattle to be slaughtered consumes huge amounts of water and land for their feed, plus cattle farming creates massive methane emissions – it traps 100x more heat in the atmosphere than CO2. Leather manufacturing itself is one of the most environmentally harmful fabric production processes out there. It relies on huge energy and water use, as well as polluting chemicals like chrome spilling into nearby waterways from tanning. And that’s all without factoring in animal welfare concerns! Animal leather is a nightmare for the planet, but most synthetic leathers aren’t any better, they’re just plastic.
Enter: pineapple, international breakfast plate and snacktime star. Their cultivation takes up 10% of all agriculture in the Philippines, the second largest producer of them worldwide, and global production reached almost 27 million tonnes in 2017. To top it all off, growing pineapples also creates about 13 million tonnes of waste alone each year. Using this waste to tackle the leather problem is a pretty genius solution, and here is why.
Pineapples to the Rescue
First and foremost, it requires almost no new resources (water, pesticides, land) to create because it’s a byproduct of pineapple food harvest. From there, all waste from fibre creation process is then turned into fertilizer or biofuel to power next round of production. Basically, pineapple leather is made by eliminating the waste of a huge existing industry and making it into something that people want. The fibres are extracted and processed directly on the Filipino plantations where they are grown, which keeps production local so less CO2 is used to transport materials within the supply chain. The materials are sent to and made into Piñatex in Spain, which lowers emissions in a big way. It means finishing happens on a European energy grid, where power comes from much cleaner sources than most clothing manufacturing. Finally, Piñatex is Cradle to Cradle ® certified, meaning they avoid a long list of nasty chemicals and aspire to a circular production model.
On top of that, pineapple leaf fibre benefits the farming communities that cultivate it. Selling the leaves for pineapple leather increases income from existing plants with little added effort or resources. And the waste from the fibre extraction process becomes biofuel that they can use for power or sell. Piñatex works directly with farming communities in the Philippines to ensure socially responsible harvesting and that the people making the material benefit from it too. It’s also completely vegan!
It’s Not *All* Sunshine
About now, you are maybe wondering “what’s the catch?” Well, pineapple leather isn’t super versatile and is mostly used for accessories, coats, and some furniture upholstery. This means it isn’t going to compete with plastic fibres the same way as other options. Plus, pineapples are very resource intensive to cultivate in the first place, and if demand for pineapple leather grows too fast, it could lead to more deforestation and resource waste to supply it. There is also no actual lifecycle analysis data on Piñatex. We don’t know what its processing entails, and have to take the company’s word for it being green. And most importantly, Piñatex is not biodegradable. The final product contains petroleum, so it still relies on fossil fuels and according to the UNEP will ultimately contribute to worldwide plastic pollution.
But don’t let that scare you off. Pineapple leather is still an innovative and mostly eco-friendly solution to a worldwide fashion industry problem. Piñatex is a great example of a low impact product that addresses a gap in the market and filling it with something eco-friendly and socially responsible. Keep an eye out for pineapple leather the next time you go shopping!