Piña Couture: Pineapple Fiber Makes Fabric In The Philippines

 

Benjamin Fitzgerald

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As couture bites into fruit as a source of natural fiber, the amount of piña used in textiles is steadily growing across North America. Piña importer Ecossar, is just one textile firm working directly with local artisans in The Philippines, to spread piña's reach. More designers need to experience the luxury of this fruit-based thread, completely derived from pineapple leaves.

Piña: The Fabric

Pineapple or piña (Spanish for Pineapple) is being used to make a plethora of textile-based products, from clothing and bags, to scarves and furniture upholstery. Areas such as Hawaii, Indonesia, India, and the West Indies are known to harvest piña, but it is the island nation of The Philippines, that has most refined the luxury tradition. Hispanic cultures, between 1521 and 1898, are said to the original piña masters. Now, The Philippines’ tropical climate, with humidity and heavy rains, cultivates an ideal home for the pineapple plant to grow - and be turned into garments.

For textiles, piña’s long, fine and luxurious thread comes from the leaves of the pineapple. They are resilient strands and are strong, and have a slight sheen similar to silk. This gloss protects the fibers, which means piña does not require any treatment with toxic chemicals to be refined. And unlike many other luxury fabrics, it is easy to wash and care for - no dry cleaning required. In pure form, the weight is light, like hemp or linen, but far finer, and far more luxurious to touch.

As a blend, the fiber goes well with cotton, abaca (banana leaf fiber), and silk to make light and breezy fabrics. When woven with silk, it is known as piña seda (silk), and piña jusi is a blend of abaca or silk. Blending adds more strength without altering the sheer aesthetic too much. More importantly, blending decreases the time and cost to produce piña and is a less expensive alternative to that of pure piña cloth.

 

Piña: The Process

When done traditionally, the scraping and weaving process for piña is laborious and intensive, with each step done mostly by hand. Pineapple leaves are first soaked and then scraped for fibers. The fibers are next dried, waxed, and spun into yarn, which is then woven into cloth. The yarn is delicate and requires care to build and weave, so the art of even learning to make the silky textile takes a long time. Piña is produced primarily in the Aklan region, with women from the area supporting their families through their craft of weaving – something that cannot be learned by all.

Piña: The Producers

Washington-based Ecossar is an importer of cloth and accessories made from a mix of piña and cotton fiber, produced solely by artisans in the Philippines. Promoting the general use of piña in the US, Ecossar helps support Filipino micro-enterprises (usually husband and wife knitting teams), who work to improve the livelihood of their communities though their weaving.

Under the guidance of Ecossar, banana leaves and their fibers are sourced directly from local farmers and cooperatives to ensure that the premium prices paid do not go to middlemen, instead of the weavers. Once obtained, the yarn is dyed using natural dyes derived from plant pigments. These are compliant with international standards and requirements for performance and aesthetic qualities, according to Ecossar's website.

Online with Le Souk, Ecossar promotes a specific collection of fabric, called Piña. What makes this line so special is that it is the world’s first fashion knitwear label to use pineapple fiber for non-traditional wear.

As textile firms like Ecossar continue to promote the luxury benefits of piña in North America, couture brands such as Rodarte and Oliver Tolentino are already stitching the pineapple fiber into cocktail frocks and evening gowns.

Le Souk has the complete Ecossar Piña collection online. Click here, to see more.