The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year, and its waste production is set to jump by 62% over the next decade. To get ahead of this, fashion companies are pivoting toward circular economy practices that eliminate waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible.
The UK-based company Ananas Anam is doing its part with Piñatex – a sustainable textile and leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibers. The company’s client roster includes Chanel, H&M, Patagonia, and Hugo Boss, who use Piñatex to create lines of shoes, bags, and outerwear.
The world’s pineapple plantations throw away 13 million tons of pineapple leaves after harvest each year – and end up burning many of them. Ananas Anam, whose production facilities are in the Philippines, has turned these discarded leaves into a valuable byproduct.
Repurposing this agricultural waste has created new employment opportunities for local pineapple harvesters; Ananas Anam’s operation in T’Boli, Philippines now employs 70 workers. Since pineapples aren’t seasonal, the company can produce Piñatex all year round and provide workers with an uninterrupted source of income.
Ananas Anam founder Dr. Carmen Hijosa first hit on the concept of creating garments from pineapple leaves in the 1990s, while she was consulting in the Philippines leather export industry.
Hijosa saw that legacy methods of mass leather production and chemical tanning, which require hundreds of toxins and heavy metals, posed a serious threat to the local environment, and started looking for an alternative.
She knew there was a local Filipino practice of weaving garments from the tough, versatile fibers of pineapple leaves. Hijosa ran with this idea, and after performing “dozens of tests” emerged from a long R&D phase with Piñatex, a breathable and flexible pineapple-based textile.
“ADB Ventures really understood how important it is to develop the supply chain and new machines so we can upscale and break into new markets.”
Hijosa then launched Ananas Anam in 2014 to bring the new material to the mainstream fashion industry. The company grew quickly; clients sought Piñatex because it is softer and lighter than other PU and PVC synthetic leathers, which are processed with chemicals and can have an unappealing vinyl-like finish.
Orders for Piñatex have more than doubled every year since 2017, and Ananas Anam has now fulfilled over 1,000 orders for the material.
Ananas Anam is now a Certified B Corporation, which means it’s been verified by the non-profit organization B Lab as achieving high social and environmental performance. This is due to Piñatex’s major sustainability potential; since it’s made from repurposed agricultural waste, it doesn’t require additional land, water, pesticides, or fertilizer to produce.
Dr. Hijosa says this fulfills her initial goal of “developing a product that not only performs extremely well, but also has a social responsibility.”
This May, Ananas Anam received a US$ 200,000 Seed grant from ADB Ventures that let them develop a new generation of decorticating machines.
Decortication is the process of extracting fibers from pineapple leaves, and the new machines made the process cheaper and more efficient for Ananas Anam. This in turn gave them more negotiating power with sophisticated manufacturing partners along the supply chain. The company recently reached an agreement with a manufacturer that can produce Piñatex at 70% the cost than the previous manufacturer they used.
With these lower production costs, Ananas Anam was able to reprice Piñatex from US$ 57/linear meter to US$ 40. The company can now compete with most genuine and synthetic leathers on the market.
Dr. Hijosa remarks that “ADB Ventures really understood how important it is to develop the supply chain and new machines so we can upscale and break into new markets.”
That’s the next step in Ananas Anam’s plan. The company recently expanded into the furniture sector by supplying Piñatex as a leather substitute for the new “vegan suite” at Hilton London Bankside. The vegan suite is an ethically conscious hospitality experience featuring everything from a plant-based check-in desk and keycard to vegan-friendly bedding and eco-cotton carpet.
Ananas Anam is also now in negotiations with automotive makers, and re-working Piñatex so it can fit industry specifications for use in car interiors.
ADB Ventures now aims to improve Ananas Anam’s supply and demand optimization by introducing the company to enterprises such as Dole and Del Monte – who operate some of the largest pineapple plantations in the Philippines.
“Partnering with Ananas Anam was an easy decision,” says Kean Ng, Investment Associate at ADB Ventures. “Piñatex has set a new benchmark for innovation in the sustainable textiles industry, and the climate benefits of this solution are clear. ADB Ventures has a wonderful opportunity to participate in their growth through both our finance and our networks.”