Pineapple fibre has, in recent years, been touted as one of the most sustainable options, but how is it produced and what can they make?
Where does pineapple fibre come from?
Cultivation of pineapple leaf fibres is an age-old tradition that in the last 20 years or so has been revived to provide the world with more sustainable fibre options, as well as reigniting the skills of communities. Piña cultivation goes back to Hispanic colonisation of the Philippines, though is grown in other sub-tropical regions too, like Brazil, Hawaii and Indonesia. Being that pineapple trees are grown for their fruit, using the leaves as fibre is good commercial sense, especially now that eco-conscious designers are looking to move away from leather and synthetics. Traditionally, pineapple silk was considered the queen of Philippine fabrics and is regarded as the material of choice of the Philippine elite. Pineapple fibre from the Red Spanish plant is generally used in hand-weaving for items such as the traditional embroidered Philippine formal shirt Barong Tagalog. The Formosa and Cayenne are other pineapple varieties also used for fibre.
How is pineapple fibre produced?
After harvest of the pineapple fruit, the plant leaves are separated from the trunk. The fibres are then manually detached from the leaves by a method of scraping (coconut husks are suitable for this), washed at a nearby river and hung to dry. The leaf strands are then knotted one by one to create a continuous filament yarn in a similar traditional method as the abaca (banana) fibre. A kilo of leaves can provide up to 15-18 pieces of white, creamy, lustrous fibre, about 60 cm long each. Hand-labour intensive, the process can often involve 30 people in total.
How can I use pineapple textiles?
Pineapple fibre on its own creates a sheer, stiff material for use in traditional formal wear and accessories, where a lightweight fabric is necessary. It is now most famous as Piñatex®, the heavier duty material used as a leather alternative in fashion, footwear and accessories. This is a cradle to cradle material, where the full textile stays within its own life cycle. Offset Warehouse’s selection of pineapple textiles are not within a certified cradle to cradle system, but as a natural fibre, can be composted given the right environment.
Over time, textiles made using pineapple fibre soften with each passing generation, and transform into a vintage beige colour, making this a true heirloom material. In contrast to Piñatex®, this more traditional textile can be blended with other natural fibres to create a lustrous luxe hand feel and appearance. Offset Warehouse’s soft pineapple mulberry silk is ethereal, with a fine weave that would be stunning in bridalwear and couture finishes. In contrast, the structured banana pineapple silk textile is more structured due to the inclusion of abaca and has a characterful grainy look. This would be an elegant base for embroidery, in millinery and again as couture finishings (think bound buttonholes, Hong Kong seams, place binding and even raw edge trims). Unfortunately, pineapple does deteriorate when reacted with acid so potentially has limitations in clothing, and especially as tableware.
How do I look after these fabrics?
Pineapple fibres can be cleaned by steam. This is a low energy solution to freshen up textiles, and steaming any products made in this textile in your shower room or with a gentle iron, will help relieve any wrinkling or creases. You can wash by hand or even in your machine on a delicate cold wash. When blended with cotton and silk, you can usually care for abaca (banana) and pineapple textiles similarly.
Are these ethical textiles?
Ethically and environmentally, the resurgence of both abaca and pineapple for textile use encourages regeneration: both of traditional artisanal skills to employ communities, and of renewable hardy plant fibres. These are incredibly labour-intensive textiles to produce, requiring both hard graft and skill, though once in place, there can be a continual harvest. Unlike cotton, which requires tilling to re-fertilise the soil, abaca and pineapple plants will regrow in the same area. The plants also don’t need any additional land, water or fertilisers to grow.
These textiles are both minimal impact due to their low water consumption (local rivers and tropical climate), low energy (generally only using people power, though differs between makers), and as they require no chemicals in growing or fibre production. They also do not need or use genetically modified crops (ensuring the sustainability of farmers’ livelihoods) and are azo-free because dyes are not used, as well as ensuring no chemicals re-enter the local water supply. Grown close to or even within the small weaving communities means that transportation is minimal. In regards to the pineapple fibre, this can also be considered a textile to minimise waste due to the leaves being a ‘by-product’ of pineapple fruit cultivation.
It’s also important to consider the social impact of fabrics – Offset Warehouse, for example, only chooses fabrics that are good for the planet and people. The Offset Warehouse selection of abaca (banana) and pineapple textiles are woven within small weaving communities on an island in the Southern Philippines. The abaca and pineapple are grown locally, though to increase versatility, strength, durability and purpose, these fibres are blended with organic cotton grown in the US, raw silk cultivated in the Philippines and mulberry silk from Canada.