Is Pineapple the Next Eco-Fabric?

Guest post by Cameron Bruns, founder of Boston Green Blog.

The clothing industry is not one of the greenest. Much of our clothing is made from synthetic fabrics like rayon or polyester that are derived from petroleum. Not only is petroleum non-renewable, it is also associated with geopolitical conflict around the world. Non-petroleum options like cotton aren’t much better. Cotton is considered “the world’s dirtiest crop,” because even though it accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land, it uses 16% of the pesticides. Some companies are attempting clean the industry by searching for alternatives to dirty crops and synthetic fibers.

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One such alternative comes from the pineapple. Piña fiber is made from the leaves of the Spanish Red Pineapple, and is hand spun to create a linen-like textile. The natural luster and color of piña fibers means that chemical baths aren’t needed to treat the fibers before they are woven into cloth – unlike bamboo fiber. Though piña cloth has been around since the late 1800s, it has gained astonishing popularity over the past 20 years due to its sustainable qualities.

Piña is quickly renewable – it takes a Spanish Red Pineapple about 18 months to reach maturity – but unfortunately, vast quantities of leaves are needed to make just a small amount of cloth. This makes it hard for piña to compete with other natural fibers on the market like abaca or jute. On the flip side, piña is a great fair trade job opportunity. Piña weavers can earn between $73 and $220 in a month, while nearly half the Filipino population makes less than $2 a day. The recent demand for piña has created a growing job market in the region.

Markets for piña cloth are rapidly growing in the U.S. and Europe mainly because high-end designers, like Oliver Tolentino, are choosing to make luxurious eco-gowns from the material. A native of the Philippines, Tolentino is now based in Los Angeles and dresses fashionable celebrities like Maria Menounos, Emmy Rossum and Sophia Bush. Tolentino burst on the Hollywood scene in 2010 and is now known as the “Valentino of the Philippines” because not only are his gowns gorgeous and unique, they are also usually made from Philippine materials – his favorite being piña.

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Piña makes gorgeous clothing because it is easy to structure, sheer, and is naturally a soft ivory color that is easy to dye. If a designer wants to use a more flexible version of piña, there are also polyester and silk-piña blends. However, many actually prefer the pure piña because of its stiffness. Its texture also makes it suitable for many home uses like as drapes, table cloths, and upholstery. Its variety of uses and environmental attributes are sure to make piña a big player in the interior design and fashion industries over the coming years.

Cameron Bruns is the founder of Boston Green Blog and a contributor to Merida, the premier source for distinctively designed natural rugs with a conscience for sustainability.

Photo credit: Jeff Werner, via Flickr.

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