Natural Materials for Sustainable Fashion

Maria San Juan-Andretta ethical fashion natural fiber fabrics Natural fibers piña cloth Sustainable fashion

Natural pineapple fiber

The Natural Pineapple Fiber Fabric or Piña Cloth from the Philippines

The Cambridge dictionary defines sustainable as “causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.” With that in mind, the concept of sustainable fashion starts with a mindset that values caring for nature. That means, you and I, need to think beyond the products that we see and like to buy. What is the story behind the products that we consume? Where did these products come from and what materials are they made of?

In my previous blog on ethical fashion, I talked about using healthy, sustainable fabrics and biodegradable materials (like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo) for clothes and other fashion items to help conserve our planet earth for future generations to enjoy. And so today, I will share with you about one of the locally-grown materials that are used in sustainable fashion and how they are produced.

The Philippines, is an abundant source of indigenous materials such as fibers from pineapple, abaca, and coconut. These fibers can compete well with cotton. Indeed, they could even be more sustainable than cotton and linen—the most popular natural fabrics, so far.

Let’s start with pineapple fabrics. Once the pineapple fruit is harvested, pineapple leaves are usually disposed of. To prevent the leaves from occupying the landfill, the best and most sustainable way to make use of these leaves is for piña production.  The use of this fiber can be traced back to the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines, in the 19th century.  Back then, the piña served as a status symbol among Filipino aristocrats who had piña formal shirts known as Barong Tagalog.

This natural fabric called piña comes from the leaves of the native Philippine red pineapple. Pineapple fibers are shiny and ivory white in color. They are usually sheer or translucent and stiff.  Piña is used mainly to make the traditional Philippine formal dresses for weddings or special social occasions.  However, the piña could also be used to make other fashion items such as shawls, hankies, and bags as well as home accessories like table linens and mats. 

A shawl made of Piña cloth

Piña is usually made more beautiful by adorning it with hand embroidery as well as hand-painting.  

Even to this date, piña is a highly priced fabric used in formal wears in special and festive occasions.  In this photo, boys from Lumban, Laguna proudly display their Piña formal shirts (locally called Barong Tagalog) during a festive community celebration or fiesta.

 

Producing piña goes through six steps. The first step involves removing the mature pineapple leaves and the thorns along the edges of the leaves by hand. The top layer of the leaf is scraped to uncover the coarse fiber. Once this is removed, the leaf is turned over and scraped again to reveal and extract the finer and inner fibers used to make pineapple fabric. The second step is the washing of the inner and finer pineapple fibers under running water. The remaining plant material is grated. This process would eventually turn the fibers white. The third step is removing the shorter fibers after the fibers have been dried by hanging them. In the fourth and fifth steps, the individual fibers are knotted seamlessly together by hand then afterwards, they are spun into spools. The last step is weaving the pineapple threads into a cloth on an upright two-treadle loom.

As you could imagine, piña production is labor-intensive. For this reason, the pineapple fabric remains expensive and inaccessible to many. In fact, it is considered a luxury fabric. It shines like silk does but is gentler than hemp, a fiber made from the hemp plant, that is the common name for a variety of Cannabis sativa. The piña has several qualities that makes it a royalty among different fabrics. It is light and easy to wash and care. Also, it mixes well when combined with other fabrics. What’s more, it is elegant and timeless. Just marvel this dress made of piña cloth. 

Hand-embroidered Piña Dress

Interested in doning a Piña dress, a piña shawl or using it in your own DIY project?  Contact us and we can ethically-made or ethically-source them for you.  Explore Wyohflowers Ethical Fashion Online Shop for some beautiful fashion pieces that are made of piña fibers. 

Make sure to tune in to my next blog where I will share with you more natural materials for sustainable fashion.