The consumption of fast fashion has made us oblivious to the opportunities present in food sources. As consumers, we have been conditioned to accommodate a linear method of production, particularly when it comes to the materials used to produce our clothes. It is no surprise that in the 21st century we are forced to research alternative methods to fabrics that pollute the air and poison our natural water sources. History has taught us that the second world war was a global reset, pushing industries into wasteful materials and bulk production levels. Up until this point, the world was functioning under a smaller scale, producing enough products to satisfy the needs of small communities. The need to produce and distribute more products created an inclination for the globalisation of products. This is the legacy that precedes fast fashion and waste in the 21st century and one in need of transformation and innovation. Agricultural waste can be used to correct the fashion industry’s waste stream and open the market for new eco-materials.
Food has always been a source of life for all humans across the centuries, even when it was not enough. Food waste, however, has been under utilised due to a lack of knowledge. Today we know more about the benefits of food waste and how this waste can transform the luxury fashion scene, not because these benefits never existed but because we never embraced them in favour of imprudently produced fabrics. Pineapples, widely cultivated in the 17th century in the Philippines, were used for weaving lustrous lace like luxury textiles. Piña, the Spanish word for pineapple, is a traditional Philippine fibre made from pineapple leaves. The historical name was a result of the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines from 1565 to 1898.
Pineapple leaves were cut from the plant so as to pull out the fibre. Each strand of the fibre was hand scraped and knotted by one form to a continuous filament to be handwoven and to be made into piña cloth. This fabric became a luxury export from the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period sold to European aristocrats during the 18th and 19th centuries. The material was synonymous with luxury not only in Europe, it was also used domestically to make traditional Filipino clothing such as barong tagalog, baro’t saya and traje de mestiza, all Filipino upper class clothing. The material was favoured for its light and brisk quality ideal for the hot tropical climate of the Philippines islands. The industry was destroyed in the second world war but is being revived in the 21st century.
Present day production and usage
Fast fashion production is putting pressure on social, economic and environmental factors making it impossible to maintain manufacturing standards in the forceable future. 21st century innovation and historical knowledge, however, appear to be more logical responses to the fashion industry’s waste stream. The fashion industry should be striving towards production processes that encourage low environmental impact and high social responsibility while maintaining economic efforts. Through research and environmental responsibility many ethical innovators have been hard at work to bring Piña back into circulation. Piñatex, an innovative natural textile made from waste pineapple leaf fibre is being produced by a brand called ananas-anam, who are dedicated to ethical fashion production.
The leaves are a by-product of pineapple harvesting, ensuring that the raw material required for fibre production has no need for additional environmental resources. The ananas-anam method for turning pineapple leaves into Piña fibre is detailed below:
- After pineapple harvest, the suitable leaves are collected in bundles. The long fibres are extracted using semi-automatic machines.
- The fibres are washed then dried naturally using the sun or drying ovens in the rainy season (not very sustainable but necessary under dire circumstances). The dry fibres go through a purification system to remove any impurities and this results in a fluff-like material.
- The fluff-like material is known as Pineapple Leaf fibre (PALF). The fibre is then mixed with a corn based polylactic acid (a bioplastic made from lactic acid and made biodegradable by adding water, heat and moisture) followed by a mechanical process to create Piñafelt, a non-woven mesh used as a base for Piñatex. The Piñafelt rolls are then shipped from the Philippines by boat ( a much longer but environmentally conscious form of transportation) to Italy or Spain for specialised finishing.
- The final steps are used to embellish the fibre with processes such as colouring, coating and strengthening.
The material today is suited for fashion use, accessories and upholstery. The production of this material is also essential for the progress of farming communities who are now repurposing materials that were otherwise left to decompose.
There is no longer an excuse good enough to embrace irresponsible fashion production because there are plenty solutions. The earth was designed to be able to repair itself, by allowing humans to extract from the ground with the hope that we will put our waste back into the ground to recreate. Using food waste for responsible fibre production is only one of the many solutions available to us to ensure ecological health, but more work still needs to be done. Piñatex has shown that even though an eco-fibre is being produced, there is still potential for pollution and un-utilised waste. The skills needed for the production of eco-fibres should be centralised to avoid pollution through transportation, trade exploitation and lack of transparency. Agricultural waste plays a crucial role in sustainable fashion production because it does not require further resource usage. Piña is no longer exclusively used for upper class individuals, the fibre is now a representation for the fight against environmental degradation and poor worker’s rights .