In an article by Charlie Teather ,
The world of ‘sustainable fashion‘ may only just be truly emerging in the mainstream industry, but there are already hugely groundbreaking discoveries that look set to change our environmental – and sartorial – landscape forever.
And leather alternatives are leading the way when it comes to innovation.
The leather problem
We’ve all heard of pleather, ‘leather-look’ and faux leather, but these PVC alternatives to the original material are no only wildly uncomfortable (need talc, anyone?) but also unsurprisingly entirely unsustainable.
Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a leather goods expert, became so shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production – not to mention the ethical discomfort it can generate – that she was determined to discover a sustainable alternative.
Piñatex: a leather solution?
Inspired by the use of plant fibres in traditionally woven garments, Carmen sought to create a new, non-woven textile that could be mass-produced while maintaining a low environmental footprint.
Proving to be the perfect woman for the job, she discovered and developed a viable alternative made from the cellulose fibre of pineapple leaves (which become waste after the fruit is harvested).
Piñatex is not only a sustainable and ethical material providing viable opportunities for scalability within mainstream fashion, but it has also provided a commercial industry for developing farming communities.
How is Piñatex made?
According to the company’s website, “The long fibres are extracted through a process called decortication, which is done at the plantation by the farming community”. Sounds technical. Thankfully Ananas Anam – the developers and manufacturers behind Piñatex – have created a ‘decorticating machine’ to assist with the process, meaning greater utilisation of the waste leaves.
Once the fibre has been extracted, the leftover biomass is used as a nutrient-rich natural fertiliser or a biofuel, so nothing is wasted.
The fibres are then ‘degummed’ and processed to become a non-woven mesh, before being shipped to Spain for specialised finishing – which is what gives Piñatex its leather-like appearance.
When will it become mainstream?
It already is. Or, at least, it’s going that way.
Unsurprisingly, it’s H&M who are leading the charge with unusual, sustainable fabrics. Launching their ninth Conscious Exclusive collection next week, the high street stalwart has introduced three materials that they’re using for the first time; one of which is Piñatex.
Another is called BLOOM Foam – a plant-based flexible foam using algae biomass. The other is Orange Fibre, a sustainable silk-like fabric made from citrus juice by-products.