Researchers from the Centre for Circular Design (CCD) at University of the Arts London (UAL) have been collaborating with materials company Ananas Anam to support the development of their innovative textile products since 2019. Piñatex® is a pioneering natural and vegan alternative to leather derived from waste pineapple leaves, whilst Piñayarn® was developed to provide a sustainable alternative for woven and knitted fabrics from the same waste stream.

The journey of Ananas Anam began with Dr Cameron Hijosa, a leather goods expert, who was consulting on the Philippines leather goods export industry in the 1990s. Driven to research a sustainable alternative to leathers and PVC materials, Carmen sought to create a new, nonwoven textile that could be commercially produced, provide positive social and economic impact, and maintain a low environmental footprint throughout its life cycle. Piñatex® is the result of this research into the use of pineapple leaf fibre. Through repurposing agricultural waste into natural textiles, Ananas Anam provided the opportunity to build a scalable commercial industry for developing farming communities, with minimal environmental impact.

Ananas Anam took part in UAL’s Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology (BFTT) SME R&D Programme (2020-21), which provided a tailored package of funding combined with academic expertise and strategic business support from UAL. This included access to a leading Academic Mentor, Professor Kate Goldsworthy, and two researchers, Dr. Helen Paine and Laura Solomon, who worked with the Company Lead, Dr Raquel Prado, to improve the properties and functionality of the base material and expand the range of potential applications.

Following the success of this first project the team went on to secure further funding from Innovate UK to develop a new yarn made from the same raw materials as Piñatex®  – Piñayarn®.  UAL brought expertise in assessing the environmental impact of the different material and production routes being considered by Ananas Anam and to study the potential end-of-life recovery routes available in the UK, informing key decisions and embedding circularity and sustainability into the R&D.

The team conducted a thorough investigation of the most appropriate fibre blend choices to provide both the required aesthetic and performance qualities while also understanding their effect on environmental impact and end-of-life recovery. During the R&D phase, a good understanding of how each of the considered material impacts, ensured the most sustainable materials were selected. Global warming, eutrophication, water scarcity, resource depletion of fossil fuels as well as the chemistry of the fossil fuels used during production of these material were all considered and compared. In addition, the end-of-life recovery options for the various materials were explored in relation to the established hierarchy of waste. Data visualisation specialist Laura Knight supported the development of insights throughout the project and ensured clear graphic communication of the results.

This work ran alongside the R&D process throughout the project and built on previous CCD research concerned with the integration of environmental science into the design and early stages of material innovation. The outcome was a comprehensive study of the lifecycle of the material and process, its environmental impacts, and end-of-life possibilities with the additional mapping of existing UK industrial infrastructure for composting or recycling.

Based on the work undertaken, Piñayarn® is currently being commercialised as a new material production by Ananas Anam, opening them to new market opportunities for woven and knitted product applications in addition to their vegan leather applications. Piñayarn® is created in a closed-loop production, ensuring zero waste. The dry spinning technology used to produce it requires no water and zero harmful chemicals. It is versatile with a customisable specification for both woven and jersey fabrics and can be tailored for use in many different products across the textile industry, such as footwear, apparel, and accessory markets.

Dr Carmen Hijosa, Founder of Ananas Anam, said “Developing a yarn that uses the same repurposed waste pineapple leaves was always a natural step after inventing Piñatex. The global pandemic accelerated this development as we worked on creating a yarn for biodegradable face coverings. It became imminently obvious that the yarn’s credentials would make a positive impact in the fashion and footwear industries.”

Dr Raquel Prado, Head of Research and Sustainability at Ananas Anam, added “UAL helped assist in selecting the most sustainable fibre blend for Piñayarn, insuring the most eco-friendly option was understood and we were aware of the drawbacks. We have also greatly benefitted from the approach taken, using creative lifecycle methods to explore end-of-life and data visualisation in order to clarify sustainability impact hotspots.”

Professor Kate Goldsworthy, Chair of Circular Design & Innovation and Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL said “Ananas Anam has really pushed the boundaries of socially-engaged and environmentally-sound materials development in the textile industry. Working as part of an integrated R&D team UAL has been able to support the sustainability of their two key products. Firstly to improve the performance and quality of their leather alternative Piñatex® and in the early development of Piñayarn®, their first yarn product from pineapple harvest waste, embedding circularity and environmental credentials into the design at the outset.”

This success story was first published in NCUB’s showcasing booklet, Making Small Mighty. To read about more case studies between UK universities and small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), download the booklet here.