London-based entrepreneur who created an alternative to leather from pineapple leaves nominated for the top prize
A London-based sustainable fashion entrepreneur who has created an alternative to leather from pineapple leaves has been shortlisted for the prestigious European Inventor Award.
Former World Bank adviser and textile industry expert Carmen Hijosa invented her Piñatex branded fabric with the aim of finding a sustainable, eco-friendly, attractive and soft alternative to leather.
Pineapple leaves are typically a waste of fruit crops, but the designer devised a process to create a fabric from their dried cellulose fibers, which she combined with polylactic acid made from corn and made into a non-woven mesh fabric.
Piñatex, which is created using much less water than other textiles such as cotton, is now used by nearly 3,000 brands around the world, including Hugo Boss and H&M – and has played a crucial role in the creation of the first fully vegan hotel suite at the Hilton Bankside. in London in 2019.
Hijosa, 69, moved to Ireland from her native Spain as a teenager and co-founded luxury leather manufacturing company Chesneau Leather Goods in 1977, just 19 years old. textile consultant for the World Bank.
It was while working in the Philippines with the World Bank that the designer was exposed to the magnitude of the industry’s negative environmental and social impact. She was inspired to start creating her pineapple leather, and in 2009 undertook a PhD in Textiles at the Royal College of Art, working to perfect the invention.
“Pineapple leaf fibers are very strong, thin and flexible and have been used in the Philippines for 300 years in traditionally hand-woven textiles,” Hijosa said. “I started to think, ‘What if I made a mesh with these pineapple leaf fibers, which is not unlike leather – a mesh of fibers? “”
The entrepreneur started his company Ananas Anam in 2013. Since then, the company – which now employs 10 people in London and works with factories in Spain and the Philippines – has seen its revenues almost double every year until 2019, before growing by 40% in 2020 Today, Piñatex production provides additional income to more than 700 families in farming communities and cooperatives in the Philippines.
The European Inventor Prize, organized since 2006 by the European Patent Office (EPO), rewards those whose inventions “provide answers to some of the greatest challenges of our time”. Hijosa was shortlisted in the SME category, and the EPO notes that “the top ten pineapple producing countries in the world are creating enough leaves to potentially replace over 50% of global leather production with the material from Hijosa” .
EPO President António Campinos said that “Hijosa has shown how innovation can provide sustainable alternatives”.
Campinos said: “The past year has highlighted more than ever the importance of scientists, researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs in advancing technology and improving our lives.”
The winner will be announced on June 17th.