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Q: Do you plan on incorporating any pineapple fiber fabric or “Pina” cloth into your clothing designs?
A: Yes, pineapple fiber cloth or “Pina” cloth as it has been traditionally known in the Philippines is a truly regal and lovely type of fabric.

History of “Pina” or Pineapple Fiber Cloth

Pineapple Pineapple fruit is well known to most people the world over these days. The pineapple plant is native to South America, but has since been introduced to all warmer climates of world. The pineapple plant is not known to be a source of fiber for textiles to most people. In the Philippines, pineapple fiber fabric has been around as long as the plant has been in the islands. In the Philippines pineapple fiber cloth is called “Pina” cloth after the local word for the pineapple plant. The Spanish introduced the pineapple to the Philippine archipelago in the 1500’s when the island chain was first became a Spanish colony. The warm climate in the Philippines was seen as an ideal place to grow pineapples by the newly arrived Spaniards. The local people of the Philippines have always favored the leaves of the Spanish Red variety for making cloth. The Spanish Red is favored for cloth making due to having unusually long leaves surrounding the pineapple fruit. The making of pineapple textiles has always been a rather time consuming and labor intensive practice requiring decades of practice to master. The fibers of the pineapple leaves have traditionally been obtained by a tedious hand scraping process using a specialized tool made out of stone, ceramic, or seashell. Not surprisingly, pina cloth has traditionally been relegated to either a fashion statement for the wealthy, or garments reserved for weddings and other important occasions. Although pina cloth never achieved large scale production in the Philippines, the craft never died. Although the production of pina cloth has traditionally been a village craft in the Philippines and always produced on a small scale, pina cloth can still be found outside of the Philippines.

At this time, Philippine tailor shops serving Filipino communities around the world still proudly advertise pina cloth garments. Custom made pina garments are typically made for special occasions like weddings and baptisms. The city of Honolulu Hawaii still has several Filipino tailor shops that make special occasion pina cloth outfits. Pina cloth is revered by Filipinos to this day, not only because it is a beautiful and ecologically responsible cloth, but mostly because it is a symbol of cultural identity.

Ecological and Social Impact of Pina Cloth

The overall environmental and social impact of pineapples is like bananas. There is a big difference in environmental impact between pineapples grown on small family farms and large corporate plantations. Large corporate pineapple plantations have acquired a bad reputation for all the same terrible environmental practices as banana growers. Pineapples only require slightly less pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide per hectare per year than bananas; in other words corporate pineapple farms use a terrible amount of nasty chemicals. Like bananas, pineapple is very attractive to pests and diseases. Like freshly picked bananas, recently picked pineapples are treated with poisonous chemicals to retard spoilage and delay ripening in preparation for shipment out of country. Large corporate pineapple plantations, like their banana growing counterparts, do not practice crop rotation. Corporate pineapple plantations deplete the soil of nutrients and create the need for harsh industrially produced fertilizers to keep growing pineapples in the same place. The land around corporate pineapple farms is now beginning to see pesticide related health issues. The land around corporate pineapple plantations is now seeing water sheds and ground water poisoned by nitrates from chemical fertilizers. Corporate pineapple plantations are also responsible for increased soil erosion from heavy fertilizer use and no crop rotations. The expansion of pineapple plantations, like banana plantations, cuts into tropical rain forests and creates contentious political and environmental issues.

Like with corporate banana plantations, there is a race to the bottom for prices at corporate pineapple plantations. The corporate pineapple industry is not as old as the banana industry, but a lot of the same labor unrest issues are shared. Like growing bananas, pineapple cultivation cannot be fully automated as of yet. A relatively large number of workers are needed to tend and harvest a pineapple field. The pineapples have to be cut by hand and carried a short distance to be chemically treated for shipping or processing for drying and canning. The need for a lot of labor when growing pineapples creates a desire for corporate pineapple plantations to keep labor costs as low as possible. There have been complaints of wages being low even by the standards of the countries where the pineapples are grown. The pineapple plantation owning corporations have also had an interest in preventing plantation workers from organizing. Like banana growing regions there have been accusations that the American pineapple plantation corporations have turned local government officials into paid employees and yes men. There is also the same contentious political issue from corporate banana plantations concerning a very small amount of the profits from the sale of pineapples overseas working their way into the places where the pineapples are grown. Corporate pineapple growing regions have not been around as long as corporate banana growing regions, however, the same accusation of creating a regional one product economy are beginning to surface.

There certainly are a few positive ecological and social impacts of using pineapple cloth. The pineapple growing industry, like the banana growing industry produces huge amounts of agricultural waste material needing a means of disposal and a new use. The pineapple cultivation industry’s thrown away pineapple plant parts and the discarded leaves of the pineapple plant could make a new and profitable use for pineapples and help dispose of unknown tons of discarded pineapple plant matter. Commercial pineapple plants produce three fruits before the plants are removed from the field down to the roots. The complete removal of the old pineapple plants from a field is known as a “knock down” by pineapple industry insiders. Every pineapple field “knock down” produces a huge amount of agricultural waste. The process of turning pineapple leaf fibers into usable textile materials can now be done by machine. A bacterial retting process, similar to the flax and hemp making process is possible for helping to more easily extract fibers from the tough pineapple leaves.

At this time, there is a slow revitalizing of the pina cloth industry in the Philippines. Today, there is a small and slowly growing pina cloth industry in Indonesia as well. The wages paid in this small industry are relatively low; however, any source of revenue is badly needed for people in the rural areas where pina production takes place. At this time, buying a garment made out of pina cloth will help to establish a more solid pina making industry in the Philippines and other nations with suitable pineapple growing climates, such as Thailand.

The pineapple industry has seen a huge worldwide expansion in the last twenty years, making a large supply of pineapple fiber available for textile manufacturers. In so many ways, the pineapple growing industry is like the banana growing industry. Both industries produce a fruit that needs a warm climate to grow, and both industries receive the same sort of complaints about labor and environmental issues. There is a growing consumer awareness concerning the negative environmental and social impacts of pineapple growing and a growing trend toward addressing these issues from the consumer end. The large American Whole Foods supermarket chain has recently embarked on an organic and sustainable certification program for the growing practices of pineapples they sell. At the Whole Foods supermarket chain, as well as grocery store chains in Europe, there is a set of “Fair Trade” practices being set up to ensure that the workers on pineapple plantations get a better share of the profits derived from the sale of pineapples in wealthy nations. There are also a growing number of programs pushing for organic certifications on pineapple.

Pineapple growing has acquired a bad reputation for labor unrest and political problems in Central America, and the Philippines, just like the banana growing industry. The good news is that the pineapple industry does not have such a history of labor disputes and political problems in Thailand and various other nations that now produce large crops of pineapples. The pineapple growing industry in Thailand is still dominated by small family owned pineapple farms, not giant corporate plantations. In places where small growers primarily produce the pineapples there is less pesticide and fertilizer use and more crop rotation. The environmental impact of pineapple growing on small family owned farms is not as troublesome as the large corporate plantations. Not all pineapple grown worldwide comes from places with a long history of labor disputes and political issues arising from profit distributions.

Q: Could pineapple fiber cloth provide a large scale substitute for cotton in the textile industry.
A: Pineapple fiber fabric, due to its inherent qualities of being a bit stiffer than cotton and not as soft as cotton make this fabric unlikely to replace cotton at the fabric of choice for textile production. The large scale international production of pineapples is definitely associated with all sorts of environmental and social problems; however, a useful textile can now be made on a large scale from a by-product of pineapple cultivation. The negative environmental aspects of using pina cloth involve the same sorts of issue that come up with using banana fiber cloth. It is a positive thing that so much agricultural waste can now be turned into a profitable textile fabric. The ethical implications of using pineapple fiber cloth are really, to some degree, a look at the ethics of the pineapple growing industry itself.

Pineapple textiles are not a viable large scale substitute for cotton; however, this fiber can help to lessen the demand for cotton in the future. Pineapple fiber can be blended with cotton to reduce the need for cotton cultivation on a world level. Trying to expand the international pineapple growing industry to replace cotton as a primary textile fabric would create huge environmental problems. In the future, pineapple fiber should be looked at as only a supplemental textile fiber to cotton.

Q: What are the advantages of incorporating pina cloth in your clothing designs?
A: First and foremost, it is truly cool to be able to say that you are wearing an article of clothing made out of pure pineapple fiber cloth. At this time, incorporating pineapple fiber cloth into a production clothing item is very avant garde. Pineapple fiber fabric is nothing new, but it is still virtually unknown outside of the Philippines and Filipino communities. Pineapple fiber has a nice sheen to it, like silk. Pina cloth holds its shape well like linen, and is not very prone to shrinking in the dryer. Pina cloth also is pretty abrasion resistant and does not create very much lint. Pineapple fiber cloth also breathes well and is bio degradable.

Q: Ok, so what are the negative aspects of designing a garment that incorporates pina cloth?
A: First, there is still a relatively high price tag on pina cloth and there are still a limited number of suppliers worldwide. The variety and styles of pina cloth are still somewhat limited at this time. The pina cloth itself is not especially supple when compared to cotton. Pina cloth has always been known to be a bit stiff when compared to cotton. Pina cloth is also not as soft as cotton, but is still comfortable to wear in hot weather and in direct contact with the skin. Pina cloth is a lot like linen because it tends to wrinkle somewhat easily. Pina cloth is like a lot of plant stem derived fabrics such as linen, natural bamboo fiber, and hemp due to this fabric’s tendency to fray at the edges and break fibers at points of high wear and creasing like cuffs and collars.