Dole Makes Sustainability Sweeter by Turning Pineapple Waste Into Textiles

Instead of animal hide, the vegan leather known as Piñatex is made from discarded pineapple leaves.

pineapples harvested

Niwat Khogprapphat / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you’ve ever browsed the breakfast buffet at a fancy Hawaiian hotel, then you’ve probably seen pineapples transformed into all kinds of spectacular creations. At the hands of a skilled fruit carver, a “hala kahiki” can become a peacock, a parrot, an owl, a hedgehog, a Jack-o’-Lantern, a tortoise, and more. In the interest of sustainability, however, multinational pineapple peddler The Dole Sunshine Company has partnered with London-based textile maker Ananas Anam to turn pineapples into something truly unexpected: fabric. Specifically, it's a natural and vegan alternative to leather that Ananas Anam calls Piñatex.

Created by Ananas Anam founder and chief creative and innovation officer Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a leathergoods expert and self-described “ethical entrepreneur,” Piñatex is made from fiber extracted from the waste leaves of pineapples. A natural byproduct of existing pineapple harvest, the leaves are collected in bundles, then processed using semi-automatic machines that extract long fibers that are subsequently washed and dried either in the sun or in drying ovens. Next, the fibers are stripped of impurities to produce a fluffy material that’s mixed with a corn-based polylactic acid to create Piñafelt, a non-woven mesh that, with additional processing, eventually becomes Piñatex.

The final product—which looks and feels just like leather—is used in clothing, accessories, and upholstery sold by more than 1,000 brands around the world, including Nike, Hugo Boss, H&M, and Paul Smith, not to mention the Hilton Hotel London Bankside, which used Piñatex to create what it says is the world’s first vegan hotel suite.

By partnering with Dole—whose farms in the Philippines will become a new source of pineapple leaf fiber—Ananas Anam will be able to scale up its operations and its impact.

“Through our partnership with Dole, our entity in the Philippines will access a much larger volume of pineapple leaf fibers to meet the ever-increasing demand for Piñatex, not only in fashion, but also in the upholstery and automotive sectors,” Ananas Anam CEO Melanie Broye-Engelkes said in a press release. “Working closely with Dole’s teams on the ground will help us to create a wider positive social impact among farming communities and to continuously reduce our environmental footprint by valorizing waste at scale.”

For Dole, the partnership is an opportunity to reinforce its new environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiative, known as The Dole Promise. Launched in June 2020, it encompasses tangible goals in the areas of sustainability, social responsibility, and nutrition. Environmental objectives include moving towards zero fruit loss from Dole farms to markets by 2025; moving towards zero fossil-based plastic packaging, also by 2025; and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

“At Dole, we believe purpose—and therefore our Promise—must permeate everything we do to address these global challenges head on. Addressing food waste is absolutely important to us, as it is connected to our business and our lives in so many ways,” says Pier-Luigi Sigismondi, global president of Dole Sunshine Company. “I believe to create tangible solutions and real systemic change to address this issue, we need to converge our purpose with creativity, innovation, and technology. Our partnership with Ananas Anam, coupled with global lifestyle brands’ use of this innovation, truly bring this convergence to life in a new way.”

Dole hasn’t always been a socially responsible business. When founder James Drummond Dole established it in 1901, the company—known then as the Hawaiian Pineapple Company—was a paragon of imperialism and colonialism. Over a century later, in 2012, a Seattle-based law firm accused Dole of greenwashing when it filed a lawsuit alleging that the company made claims about corporate social responsibility while also sourcing bananas from an environmentally injurious supplier in Guatemala.

In the last decade, however, Dole claims to have reinvented itself around the Japanese business philosophy known as Sampo Yoshi, which translates as “three-way satisfaction.” Conceived in the 18th century by Japanese merchants, the idea is to do business in a way that benefits the buyer, the seller, and society at large.

“The triple-win concept of ‘Sampo Yoshi’ has been part of Japanese culture for centuries, and is now at the heart of The Dole Promise as we play our part in helping to restore balance in the world by doubling down on our mission to put the health of the planet at the heart of everything we do,” Richard Toman, president of Dole’s Dole Asia Fresh Division, said last year, upon announcing The Dole Promise. “It’s a promise that Dole is making to do business differently, and to join forces with those who are equally committed to bringing back the goodness of the Earth.”