When Carmen Hijosa, from Spain, had managed to stand out in the design, manufacture and export of leather products, she left everything behind. After 15 years in the sector, she devised a material made from the filament of pineapple leaves, allowing her to launch an environmentally-friendly and innovative product. "I respect the Earth and the people," says this Asturian woman based in London, where she manages Ananas Anam. The company has developed Piñatex, an alternative fabric to leather which has boosted the local economy of various impoverished communities in the Philippines, the third largest pineapple producer in the world. With a turnover of 275,000 pounds sterling (306,166 Euro), it is the only distributor and manufacturer of this material. Its head office is in London and employs 15 people. Last year, their losses were significant in relation to their turnover (451,000 Euro) due to operating costs and administrative expenses.
Pineapples are the second most grown tropical fruit after mangoes, with a global production exceeding 25 million tons. For every 16 units, almost 500 leaves are extracted, according to the estimations of Ananas Anam. This equates to one square meter of Piñatex. "We have created an industry that was non-existent, using low-impact industrial methods to give greater value to the lives of farmers," she says. And the result is a soft and flexible material, but very durable, which can be used in footwear, clothing, fashion accessories, interior furniture and car upholstery. The company, founded in 2013, is responsible for the extraction and treatment of the pineapple leaf fiber in the Philippines and its shipment to Barcelona, where the finishing process is carried out. Each meter of the product costs around 50 Euro; a little more if the fabric is finished in silver or gold.
The marketing of Piñatex has become a new source of income for some Filipino farmers who no longer depend only on the seasonal harvest of the pineapples and the weather conditions. "It is necessary to follow some steps and carry out some tests. If we want them to obtain a better income, we must help them so that they can generate a greater production volume," explains Hijosa. In a very short time, these communities found out that they could take advantage of a raw material that used to be left to rot in the sun. The producers now make an essential contribution to this sustainable alternative to leather.
"We have the ability to help people at all levels, starting with the grower and ending with the consumer." The textile industry is no stranger to questions about traceability. You want to know where the product comes from. "People pay more if they believe in it," she says.
Hijosa wants to promote its brand without compromising its ecological, social and cultural strategies in a market defined by the accumulation of power. "I do not work for the money, but for the vision, and when people realize that, the change will come."