In recent years, there has been a boom in sustainable fashion trends in the western world. From thrifting second-hand clothing to purchasing from sustainable fashion brands, more and more of the general public have shifted towards these practices thanks to their growing online popularity. While it may seem that sustainable fashion has been a recent trend, many cultures worldwide had had sustainable traditions with their clothing long before it was mainstream. The Philippine Islands in Southeast Asia are one of those cultures that have such a tradition. They have had a tradition of weaving clothing from plants since long ago. In the 1570s, the Philippines began producing piña textiles, which are biodegradable fabrics made from pineapples. Being a tropical archipelago, the Philippines is the largest export of pineapples, only second to Thailand, making it a key crop in their culture. It is no surprise that native Filipinos have developed a technique to use this fruit in other ways besides food consumption due to its abundance.
The demand for plant-based materials has risen with the trend of sustainability and the urge to slow down climate change. Plant-based products reduce waste as there is a range of ways to dispose of them such as recycling. Common plant-based clothing materials include organic cotton, linen, and hemp. Piña textiles can be added to the list of plant-based clothing materials from its source material up to its final product. Piña textiles are biodegradable as it does not require chemical refinement, therefore, making them a sustainable source of fabric. Pineapple plants only take 18 months to grow. It is a simple plant that does not require extensive tendings such as tilling and fertilizing and takes less land and water to grow compared to cotton. While the process of weaving the fabric itself is strenuous, the waste from the leaves can be used as fertilizer, fuel, or food for livestock.
Piña textiles are made from the leaves of a pineapple plant and not the fruit itself. The fibers of the leaves are hand pulled and split from it and then woven together to make the cloth. This is a slow and tedious procedure as the fibers are delicate and prone to breakage. Due to the laborious process of the cloth, clothing made from piña is expensive. The textiles were mostly used for traditional clothing such as the Barong Tagalog, wedding dresses, and other formal dresses. Other uses include table linens, mats, bags, and general creative design. With the rise of more cost-effective clothing in the 20th century, piña clothing lost its popularity. However, it is still available now in modern times in the Philippines. Current piña textiles are blended with silk which makes them more versatile and less costly. Many designers are also looking into reviving the weaving industry by focusing on piña.
Some Philippine-based sustainable brands have also begun using piña in an innovative way. Piña is used for making Piñatex, which is a leather alternative used to make sneakers. Adidas has recently created a similar leather alternative to Piñatex. Mycelium, which comes from mushrooms, was used as a concept for their Stan Smith Mylotm in 2021. Both these leather alternatives are revolutionary. However, it appears there isn’t as much coverage on Piñatex compared to Adidas’s release, even though Piñatex was created much earlier in the 1990s. Is this because western advances in sustainability are more important than in the east? Or is it because sustainable fashion has recently taken off in the west and is therefore considered a breakthrough only now? While yes, the production of mycelium shoes is an important advancement, it is crucial to learn about other cultures when it comes to innovation in sustainable fashion as they’ve had these practices for centuries. If Filipino brands had the same resources are Adidas, perhaps the awareness of Piñatex worldwide could have been more well-known. Or maybe they could have advanced past shoes and into another industry. The revival of weaving through the rediscovery of piña could have happened sooner with the expansion of Filipino culture. It is brilliant that another biodegradable leather was founded through old traditions. By bringing these traditions back into the spotlight, the current generation can keep them alive while also helping the planet.