Dr Carmen Hijosa had a long career in the leather goods industry before she became compelled to find sustainable alternatives.
Originally from Spain, her career has taken her around the globe, designing items made of leather, overseeing manufacturing and working as an industry consultant.
In the 1990s a work trip to the Philippines, she was shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning.
Inspired by the abundance of natural resources, including the use of plant fibres in traditional weaving in the region, Carmen sought to create a new, non-woven textile that could be commercially produced, provide positive social and economic impact and maintain a low environmental footprint throughout its life cycle.
She found the raw material she was looking for in a by-product of the Philipines pineapple harvest.
“Pineapple leaves contain one of the finest cellulose fibres in existence, so I thought: Why couldn’t we use these to make a leather alternative?” she told Wired.
Carmen decided to undertake a PhD at the Royal College of Art UK while in her late 50s and under the company Ananas Anam, which is headquartered in London, Carmen developed Piñatex®.
“Piñatex is a material that is completely cradle to cradle, it substitutes leather that has a very heavy environmental and welfare impact, and it brings new income streams to subsistence farmers, allowing them to fully utilise their crops,” says Ananas Anam.
Ananas Anam has developed the first automated decorticating machine to assist with this process, allowing farmers to utilise greater quantities of their waste leaves. Once the leaves have been stripped of fibre the leftover biomass can be used as a nutrient-rich natural fertiliser or a biofuel, so nothing is wasted.
The finished textile is distributed directly by Ananas Anam to designers, who use it as a sustainable alternative to leather in footwear and handbags, clothing, interior furnishing and automotive upholstery.
Carmen has been recognised as a creative leader through awards including the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award (sustainable innovation – 2015) and the Innovate UK women in innovation award (sustainable materials – 2016), and the pineapple pioneer regularly shares her innovative views on sustainability at panels and events including TEDx talks.Tags: bioengineering, biomaterials, Circular Economy, sustainability, sustainable fashion