Fiber Watch: It’s Ripe Time To Pull Out The Pineapple Leaves


Originating in the Philippines as a lightweight option for their hot and moist island climates, pineapple fabrics and their lustrous qualities are catching the eye of luxury and couture designers. 

Although pineapple fabrics were first created in the Philippines, the pineapple plant actually originated in South America around the region of Paraguay. In the 16th century, Spaniards invaded the Northern Philippines and planted pineapple plants they had discovered in the Americas since they deemed them to do well in the tropical climate.

The Spanish settlers also had a long list of demands to establish among the native Filipino population, one of them being that all should be fully clothed from head to toe. This was understandably ridiculous and impractical to the indigenous peoples who had for centuries maintained their local wisdom and lack of bodily shame through staying comfortable and cool by baring all.

However, since the Spaniards had the advantage of armaments, the natives decided to adhere to the pressure to wear garments and devised a way to weave cloth from the newly planted pineapple plants. Having developed methods for weaving cloth from their native banana and abaca leaves, the Filipino population discovered similarities between sheath leaves of all three plants.

Through experimentation, they realized how pineapple leaves rendered a gossamer fabric that was diaphanous, breathable and had excellent cooling properties. Ideal for the tropical climate, the material also managed to meet the European standards of being properly clothed.

Weaving of the pineapple leaves into this graceful fabric continued, and rapidly rose in popularity among European fashion circles by the 19th century. Parisians in particular coveted the fabric, and in 1850 Filipino officials gifted a petticoat and undergarments made from pineapple fabric to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of the British Empire. The material was held in favor until the cheaper and more easily obtainable option of cotton overtook the textile industry by the end of the 19th century.

The process of obtaining pineapple fabrics is long and arduous, due to the fact that it is mostly done by hand. The leaves are first soaked to soften the plant gums, then scraped to obtain the fibers, and hung to dry in the open air. Once waxed to remove tangles, they are then knotted and spun into a lustrous, white yarn.

As pineapple yarn is extremely delicate, working and weaving with it requires precision and patience. The resultant fabric is a glossy but slightly stiff, ivory-colored material that is considered one of the finest materials by the Philippines, and also used for their ceremonial Barong Tagalog outfits.

Pineapple fabric is known as piña (the Spanish word for pineapple), and can be woven in combination with other fibers such as cotton, banana leaf, silk and polyester. The fiber takes natural dyes very well, and is usually only dyed without the use of chemicals. The glossy surface of the material also eliminates the need for toxic treating agents, since it acts as a protective layer for the fabric in itself. Softer than hemp and better in quality than raw silk, piña is like a lightweight, lustrous and smooth, linen material. As an added bonus, it is easy to wash, not requiring dry-cleaning.

Although these qualities make piña the perfect material for ethereal clothing, it is very expensive due to the time and skills involved in processing. It has therefore caught the eye of luxury fashion designers such as Oliver Tolentino (a Filipino) and Rania Salibi. Tolentino has turned the natural material into a star of the red carpet by creating gowns and cocktail dresses and suits for the likes of Emmy Rossum, Cee Lo Green, Tatyana Ali and Anna Paquin, alongside crafting beautiful bridal wear. Having also won several awards for sustainable fashion competitions with designs that incorporate pineapple fabric, Tolentino has been credited with introducing the piña to Hollywood and Western fashion circles.

Who knows, perhaps the states of Florida and Hawaii will see sustainable opportunities for re-learning and preserving handcrafts and luxurious materials with the waste from their pineapple industries.

Images: THIS Co.