Ditch Pleather, Pineapple's the New Faux Leather

Because the fruit has no seeds, you need a pineapple to grow a pineapple. (Photo: samsam62/Shutterstock)

Pineapples are pretty miraculous fruits. The edible part that we enjoy making upside-down cakes and coladas with is, in fact, a group of coalesced berries growing from a bromeliad plant. These "berries" form two interlocking helices that are also Fibonacci numbers: 8 and 13. The pineapple originated in southern Brazil and Paraguay, but native people began cultivating it early, and it spread throughout South America, and then Central America, Mexico (it was enjoyed by the Mayans and the Aztecs) and the Caribbean.

Most of the pineapple's history has to do with its delicious, high-in-vitamin-C fruit, as humans brought it to as many tropical places as they could get it to grow, like the Philippines and Hawaii, where it was imported in the 1500s. But the tough pineapple leaves are as miraculous as the fruits. Carmen Hijosa, a fashion designer with a Ph.D. from the Royal College of Art and Design, has created a leather-like fabric that utilizes fibers from pineapple leaves.

Hijosa's Piñatex fabric is vegan, and it's also sustainable; the fibers used to make the fabric are a byproduct that would otherwise be considered waste material. So, as the Piñatex site mentions, "No extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides are required to produce them." And unlike pleather (leather made from types of plastic) it's also petroleum-free and biodegradable. Both Camper and Puma have made experimental shoes from the fabric so far.

A pineapple "silk" fabric can also be made from the strong and light pineapple fibers; it is usually woven by hand, as the video above demonstrates. It is a traditional Philippine fabric. It makes for a strong, somewhat stiff and wonderfully translucent fabric. The Barong Tagalog, the country's traditional royal dress, is often made from piña fiber. The craft of making a textile this way had almost died out, but it has been revived in the last 20 years.

How do you create a fabric from pineapple leaves? First you remove the leaves from the plant, and then pull the fibers inside gently out. Each fiber is like a piece of string, and each usable piece should be long and stiff. Then, each long individual fiber is knotted to the next to form a long filament which can then be used to weave clothing. All of this is done by hand.

A dress by Puerto Rican designer Agnes Anna with a Pinatex fabric collar.
This dress by Puerto Rican designer Agnes Anna, includes a lovely piña fabric collar and sleeves. (Photo: Starre Vartan)

I had the opportunity to see pineapple fiber when I was recently checking out ethical fashion boutiques in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both shops I stopped at, Luca and Concalma, carried clothing with pineapple fiber inserts. You can see how pretty that looks in the image above.

It's pretty remarkable that pineapple fibers show up both as a traditional woven fabric and also as a super-modern biological textile, proving there really isn't anything new under the sun — though there may be new ways of thinking about them.