Pineapple Leather: What it is, Why We Love and Use it.
‘Pineapple leather’ is made from the leaves of the fruit, and is called Piñatex. It’s far more sustainable than both cow skin leather and conventional synthetic leather, and it looks gorgeous.
Today we’re going to dive deep into the material. What is pineapple leather? Is it a sustainable alternative to leather? Is it a natural vegan leather? How is pineapple fabric made? We’ve got all the answers.
What is pineapple leather made from?
Piñatex is a woven, coated textile. It is a wonderful replacement for cruel and environmentally damaging cow skin leather.
Pineapple leather is made from the leaves of pineapple fruit plants. These aren’t the leaves that poke out the top of the pineapple fruit, but the bigger leaves of the plant itself, that are most often thrown away before we ever see them.
The fibres of the pineapple leaves are pulled apart, dried out, and then brought together through a processing system which creates a non-woven substrate. Essentially, a flat fabric sheet, sort of like felt, where all the different leaf fibres cross over each other and are fused together. This material is totally biodegradable.
After this stage, the pineapple fibre is coated. This coating makes up between 10-15% of the final material, making it still primarily an alternative to leather made from plants. The coating is partly made from plants too, as it’s made from polylactic acid. This is a sort of thermoplastic which is derived from renewable biomass, like fermented plant starch from corn, sugarcane or sugar beet.
This is all that goes into the material! Unlike almost all cow skin leather, there are no toxic, or even carcinogenic chemicals like chromium or arsenic involved. And, unlike conventional synthetic leather, there are no fossil fuels in the final material. Piñatex is an almost totally plant based leather.
How is pineapple leather made?
While we already know this pineapple fabric leather alternative is made from leaf fibres bound together and coated in renewable biomass, we can go back a step farther in the production process, too.
The first stage of Piñatex production is the cultivation of pineapple fruit plants. For cow skin leather, it’s the farming and slaughtering of animals, and for most synthetic leather, it’s the extraction of fossil fuels. Growing fruit is far less environmentally impactful than both of these.
Approximately 13 million tonnes of waste is usually produced by the global pineapple industry each year, made up of the leaves normally discarded. By making a sustainable leather alternative from this waste product, Piñatex reduces waste and requires no additional agricultural land for its production.
A man harvesting pineapple leaves for the material.
How does pineapple leather help living beings?
Pineapple fruit farmers in the Philippines gain an additional source of reliable income when people buy the natural, vegan leather alternative that is Piñatex. Instead of producing only fruit, they now produce both fruit and leaves for a profit, which goes back into their community and family.
When we buy cow skin leather, we are also adding profit to an industry. Except, unlike with Piñatex, we aren’t supporting fruit farmers. When farms sell their cattle to slaughterhouses, their skins are sold for a profit. By buying animal skin leather we are directly funding the exploitation and slaughter of sentient beings.
On cattle farms, gentle animals are painfully, but legally dehorned without any pain relief. This means their horns are cut or even burned off and out of their heads. On dairy farms, all the male calves who will never produce milk, but who are born because cows must be pregnant to produce milk, are slaughtered at a few days old. These are both practices behind the production of leather.
Interestingly, when abattoirs have been unable to sell skins, sometimes due to the increased demand for vegan leather alternatives, they have said they’ve lost millions of dollars in profits. If slaughterhouses aren’t making enough money, they won’t continue to operate. This is an important thing to be aware of - what we choose to spend our money on makes a difference.
Is pineapple leather a sustainable leather alternative?
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition shares data and gives a numerical rating to the environmental impact of different materials through their Material Sustainability Index. The higher the number, the worse the material is for the environment.
This most recent data from 2020, shows that cow skin leather is the third most environmentally impactful material to produce. Previously, it was thought to be the single most impactful, but silk and alpaca wool have since been further assessed and are first and second most impactful.
In comparison, even PU synthetic leather has less than a quarter of the environmental impact of cow skin leather, and Piñatex has a bit more than half the impact of PU synthetic leather.
This is clear evidence that not only is cow skin leather utterly unsustainable, but that more natural vegan leather alternatives like Piñatex are excellent choices for those who care about the future of the planet.
The reason cow skin leather has such an enormous environmental impact is that animal agriculture is seriously harmful to the planet. Cattle release massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions through a process called enteric fermentation. This process, essentially the passing of gas, causes massive methane emissions. These animal agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are equivalent to the emissions released by the transport sector through all exhaust from every plane, train, car and boat and all around the world.
What’s more, leather is seriously thirsty, with the water footprint of raising cattle for leather being 17,100 litres of water being for every kilogram of skin. This isn’t even the total water footprint of cattle farming, but the water associated only with the weight of the cow tied to their skin.
The water and communities surrounding leather tanneries too, are often heavily polluted. In The Toxic Price of Leather, a community in the fourth largest leather producing country of India is shown. Here, 50 million litres of waste water spills out of tanneries and into the Ganges river which people drink from and bathe in.
Water pollution by leather tanneries in Bangladesh. Image by Daniel Lanteigne.
Answers to some more frequently asked questions about pineapple leather:
Is Piñatex biodegradable?
Piñatex pineapple leather alternative is about 90% biodegradable. This is because the sustainable leather alternative is around 90% made of pineapple leaves, and about 10% renewable biomass resin coating.
This coating will not biodegrade the same way the base material will, but it still is far more eco friendly than animal leather or conventional synthetic leather.
What are the differences between pineapple leather and cow skin leather?
The main differences between the two materials are what we have looked at in terms of ethics and sustainability. Piñatex is not built upon a slaughter industry, and it has a far reduced impact, being an almost totally natural vegan leather.
Aesthetically though, there are some differences too. Unlike with cow skin, some Piñatex has a slightly crinkled texture, which creates a gorgeous statement on wallets and handbags.
Not all Piñatex has this effect though, with flat, metallic pineapple fabric ‘leather’ looking very similar to metallic coated cow skin leather. Piñatex also released a collection of fabrics that were part Piñatex as we know and love it, part polyurethane synthetic leather. These look more similar to cow skin leather texturally.
What products made from pineapple leather are out there?
There are plenty! You can find Piñatex handbags, wallets, backpacks, heels, boots, jackets and other fashion items in the sustainable leather alternative material.
Here at Kinds of Grace, we have handbags which come with cosmetics pouches, and key rings made from Piñatex.
And that’s everything on Piñatex! It’s a wonderful, ethical material, and one we’re excited to use.