Piñatex® – Ananas Anam
Bridging ecology and enterprise in one fell swoop is no mean feat; yet Dr Carmen Hijosa neatly combines both, bringing together her passion for ethical and sustainable material sourcing with a growing business in the shape of her brainchild, Ananas Anam. When the Spanish-born expert in leather goods manufacturing travelled to the Philippines in the 1990s for research, she was left astounded by the heavy toxic impact the industry has on the environment, and decided to change things. Through Ananas Anam, Hijosa developed Piñatex®, a natural leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibre. As a byproduct of existing agriculture, Piñatex® is natural, sustainable, socially responsible, and ethical. Now, with a PhD from London’s Royal College of Art and several awards and international recognitions under her belt, Hijosa continues to produce the leather-like textile, which is lightweight, durable, flexible, breathable, as well as rich, soft, and beautifully textured. Applications range from fashion and footwear to furniture and automotive interiors. This does not mean that Hijosa is about to rest on her laurels. The passionate businesswoman is now working with Imperial College London to develop the next generation of Piñatex®, one where the textile is fully biodegradable.
In response to the problem of ocean pollution, Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet has created an ingenious alternative to leather, made from fish. Working with the sustainable materials the sea has to offer and aiming to counteract the damaging effect plastic has on our waters, Hoogvliet discovered that fish skin is a common waste product of the fishing industry. Collecting this abundant material, the designer experimented and rediscovered an old, handmade technique of tanning these skins without using any chemicals. Any kind of fish skin can be used for this process, and the result is 100% natural, sustainable, and strong. Putting her project to practical use, Hoogvliet created a stool with fish leather seating and a rug made out of salmon skins, calling her series RE-SEA ME, referencing her appeal to support clean oceans. This is just the beginning for the designer, who is based in The Hague. She believes that while currently the tanning process is fairly labour-intensive, it can be improved and applied on a larger scale, offering potential for mass production. Fish Leather, her recent book, encourages more people to address this issue and consider her animal hide alternative.
Green Banana Paper
Micronesia may not feel like the obvious place to look for cutting-edge design, yet this is the headquarters of one of the most innovative and unexpected companies championing leather alternatives. The eco-friendly Green Banana Paper was set up by Matt Simpson, a US native and keen surfer, who moved to the small Pacific Ocean state in 2008 and started obsessing about the idea of creating product out of banana fibre four years later. Now, Green Banana Paper employs some 25 staff and produces sustainable and ethical vegan paper and wallets using a leather alternative made from recycled banana trees. The operation is fairly small scale and entirely local; the raw material comes from subsistence farmers who want to earn extra income from unwanted banana tree trunks. The product – men’s and women’s wallets in a variety of styles and sizes – is 99% organic and biodegradable. But Simpson’s vision does not stop there. ‘Green Banana Paper is striving toward a closed loop manufacturing process’, he says. The company aims to waste nothing. Byproduct from the banana trees is put into a compost pile for farming, while off-cuts and paper scraps are recycled.