The New Piñatex - An Ecological Alternative to Leather

by Barong Warehouse


Piñatex variations (L-R) "Pinukpuk" and "Bagahe" (Photo from Royal College of Art)

Designer and fabric innovator Carmen Hijosa has developed an ecological alternative to leather called the Piñatex. The Piña fabric has long been a unique staple in the Philippine textile industry. It is one of the most widely used and the most expensive fabric for the making of the official national garment, the barong tagalog. 

When the Spaniards colonized the Philippines hundreds of years ago, among many things, they brought with them the pineapple plant. Since native Filipinos have a weaving tradition for making clothing and other use-able items, the leaves from pineapples were eventually also used for garments and they called it, Piña.

Carmen Hijosa

Now, a modern Spanish innovator has found a way to make Piña an environmentally suitable substitute for leather. Carmen Hijosa went to the Philippines in the 1990s to consult for the local leather industry. Unsatisfied with the quality standards, she was drawn to the local Piña natural fiber. Hijosa realized that plantation farmers could make a mesh that isn't woven or knitted from the long pineapple fibers through an industrial process that is similar to how felt is made. A by-product of this process is a fertilizer that the farmers could use for another revenue stream.

She then enrolled herself for a PhD degree at the Royal College of Art in the UK, where she further developed her idea of using Piña as a leather substitute for the past five years. Now trademarked, this is the exact description from the Royal College of Art:

Piñatex™ is an innovative, natural and sustainable non-woven textile developed by the Ananas Anam team. It is produced from the fibres of pineapple leaves which are a by-product of the pineapple harvest. Initial product work was undertaken in the Philippines and significant research & development is now being undertaken between the UK and Spain, specifically to enhance the finishing technology. Piñatex™ can be used as a leather alternative or textile in the fashion, accessory and upholstery markets.

Piñatex is close to the appearance of canvas but it can be dyed, printed, and texturized. Its cost of manufacturing falls in the attractive mid-range segment between luxurious leather and established cheaper substitutes. Hijosa hopes to see Piñatex establish its own reputation outside of being a leather alternative. She wants to also make sure it stays environmentally-friendly and that no more land is used to plant pineapples for its demand since it also comes from a by-product of the fruit.

Recently, alongside other designers, Carmen has launched product prototypes such as ywo iPhone covers made with Piñatex. Other products are shoes from Camper and Puma, clutch bag by Ally Capellino, and Backpack + iPad cover from Smithmattias. 


Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

(Photo by Linda Nylind for the Guardian)

Hopefully we see more of Piñatex in a variety of other products as well as other environmentally safe material substitutes in the near future. This is great news for farmers who will now sell more of a pineapple by-product and it is exciting to hear of an innovation such as Piñatex that came from an original Filipino creation, the Piña.

Watch this video to hear more about Carmen's vision for Piñatex:




The Guardian

Exhibit Studio

Royal College of Art

Barong Warehouse
Barong Warehouse


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