Puma gets a kick out of PH pineapple fiber
Soon, pop star Rihanna may go around town proudly wearing shoes fashioned out of processed pineapple fiber from the Philippines.
This after shoe brand Puma, which the Barbadian singer is endorsing and where she recently released her own shoe collection, has indicated plans to consider the product in the manufacturing of a shoe line. For this development, we have start-up company Piñatex to thank.
Puma’s Suede shoe prototype was created with natural Piñatex textile. And from the looks of it, many other companies may soon follow suit.
It took Spanish entrepreneur and designer Dr. Carmen Hijosa to realize the sustainable wealth one can extract from pineapple fiber, after going to the Philippines as part of her research project.
During the late ‘90s, Hijosa was asked by the World Bank to help upgrade the leather industry in the Philippines and enable it to send more products abroad.
As such, she became a consultant for the Design Centre Philippines.
Hijosa and her team developed ways to transform waste plant fiber into nonwoven textiles.
Despite the research and development being done in London, the company still works closely with local farmers and the national government to create the material.
“The national and local governments are trying to help the farming community with training and knowledge transfer so that they can organize themselves and make Piñatex fiber procurement a profitable and sustainable business for the farming community,” Hijosa explained.
How does it work?
Following a business-to-business (B2B) model, the company is collaborating with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Labo Progressive Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LPMPC) as well as local farmers in Camarines Norte.
According to James Nacario of DA, the government helps farmers by giving decortication machines and training for free. These machines are used by farmers to remove the tough outer layer of the fiber.
After that, they sell the pineapple leaves fiber supplied by LPMPC to Piñatex.
This direct involvement in the process allows the pineapple farming communities to dictate the price of the raw materials.
The profit is then either put back into the cooperatives or used to improve their operations.
As a bonus, the by-product from decortication is usually converted into organic fertilizer or biomass, leaving nothing to waste and increasing the yield for local farmers.
Due to the lack of resources to process the pineapple fiber into water resistant textiles, the government leaves further processing to Piñatex.
The decorticated fiber is sent to a textile finishing company in Barcelona, Spain. Then, the finished goods are distributed to various fashion and accessories industries, furnishing companies, and even car and aeronautics industries.
Leather vs Piñatex
Hijosa said she wanted Piñatex to become a substitute or an alternative to leather without compromising its durability and aesthetics.
“We are working toward developing a full biodegradable Piñatex, which we hope will be in the market in 2017. We do not use any harmful substances such as PVC or animal-based substances,” said Hijosa.
Pineapple leaf fibers, being very fine, are very strong but flexible.
It is for this reason that Hijosa decided to develop the new material, applying what she learned at the Royal College of Art in London, England.
No extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides were required to produce the material. As the members of the company like to say, no pineapples, especially no animals, were harmed in the making of their products.
The company admits that they still have a long way to go, and their R&D team continues to find innovative ways to improve the quality of the fiber. But they are undaunted.
At 63 years old, Hijosa believes that there is so much to do in the world, and developing a sustainable material like Piñatex is just one of them.
For those who want to follow in her footsteps, she has this to say: “Have a strong vision, which is good for the world and its people. Think globally, be resilient and be prepared to work very hard.”