It all started with a trip to the Philippines. Carmen Hijosa, a Spanish fashion designer who worked in the leather industry was captivated when she bought a shirt that was woven together by fibers of pineapple leaves. After that experience, she decided that pineapple leaves would be a great substitute to make artificial leather because of its strong and fibrous structure. And after 5 years of research, she finally came up with a sustainable product: Piñatex.
Traditional leather is very laborious to produce plus it is unsustainable. In order to make leather, the cows consume a lot of water and food and they take up a lot of land. As a result, cows take in a lot of resources and leave behind a large carbon footprint. In addition, there are many chemicals that are involved that are used for processing the leather, such a formaldehyde. These chemicals are very harmful to the environment and can contaminate nearby water sources. In regards to fake leather, or pleather as some like to call it, there are still environmental risks when synthesizing it because it is made from petroleum.
Piñatex is made from the fibers of pineapple leaves. This product is completely sustainable because all the materials come from the by-product of the pineapple harvest that would have been left to rot or be burned. On average, the agriculture industry produces 40 tons of waste from pineapple leaves each year. Piñatex is so environmentally friendly that even the waste from making the Piñatex can be used as a fertilizer for future pineapple crops. It only takes about 480 pineapple leaves to make one square meter of Piñatex, which makes this product lightweight and cost efficient. After Piñatex is synthesized, the leather can be stitched into goods such as handbags or shoes or even furniture.
Hijosa was already a part of the fashion industry when she came up with this product. She actually had been a specialist in leather production for 15 years and was sent on a trip to the Philippines to actually oversee the leather production at one of her company’s plants. However, when she got there, she realized that leather was not a sustainable product. She recalls in an interview that she was struck with that realization and thought, "I need to do something about this. I'm a maker. I know leather - but we need an alternative". She decided to get her PhD at the Royal College of Art in order to gain more knowledge on how to synthesize textiles before she created her own company Ananas Anam that creates Piñatex. Piñatex is now being used in prototypes for major brands, such as Puma.
Hijosa is a Pro-C creative because she did have experience in the leather industry before coming up with Piñatex. In addition, her creative process is collaborative. In an interview, she states: “There are brilliant minds [at the Royal College of the Arts] and it is the perfect place to collaborate with people in different departments. I want this material to be a break-through ethically responsible product, and I know that the RCA is the place to develop this process and to create something new and exciting.” This relates to the Small Worlds article and how collaboration can help the creative process. By associating with different artists and designers, Hijosa is able “to gain the kind of credibility that unfamiliar material needs to be regarded as valuable in new contexts”. She was able to take her past knowledge and the knowledge from her peers to turn something so ordinary into something extraordinary.