Patent of the Month of June
Leather substitute from pineapple leaves
Every year in June the European Patent Office honours outstanding innovations with the European Inventor Award. Fifteen smart minds are competing for the prestigious prize in five categories. Among the finalists in the SME field is Carmen Hijosa from Spain. She produces high-quality leather substitutes from pineapple leaves, providing a sustainable alternative to both environmentally harmful leather products and synthetic materials.
The brilliant idea is a model in its sustainable circular economy and thereby economically successful. Thus, Ms. Hijosa is our favourite and her corresponding patent application EP2576881A2 from May 2011 is our Patent of the Month of June!
The leather substitute developed by Hijosa is made of pineapple leaf fibres, which are waste products from Philippine pineapple plantations. On site, long fibres are extracted from the leaves, then washed, dried and pressed. This process results in a non-woven material - similar to felt. For further processing it is shipped to Europe, where it undergoes various treatments - meshing, dyeing and softening, among others - and subsequently becomes available for a variety of products. The innovative textile material has a leather-like texture and ideal processing properties: it is long-lasting and hard-wearing, yet soft, breathable and flexible.
The entire manufacturing process follows the C2C (Cradle to Cradle) philosophy. This relies on eco-efficient and socially responsible manufacturing within the framework of a consistent circular economy, e.g. in the use of renewable energies / raw materials, in the responsible use of water and in observance of social justice.
With a waste product as the starting material, no additional land and resources need to be consumed. Working directly with agricultural cooperatives supports rural farming communities. The cooperative Hijosa is working with includes 700 families who supply the waste leaves and benefit from the additional source of income.
From Saul to Paul - when business woman and leather goods expert Carmen Hijosa visited Philippine production facilities in the 1990s, she was shocked by the environmental destruction and terrible working conditions that prevailed there. She took the consequences and has since dedicated herself to the development of ecological alternatives to leather production. Inspired by the use of plant fibres in traditional garments in Southeast Asia, she spent seven years working on the fabrication process and production chain of the innovative tissue as part of her dissertation at the Royal College of Art in London.
In 2013, at the age of 63, Hijosa founded the start-up Ananas Anam , with which she commercializes the leather alternative under the brand Piñatex® . Since then, the demand for ethically and ecologically produced textiles has increased steadily. Today, the pioneer supplies Piñatex® to around 3,000 fashion companies in 80 countries. And the potential is not yet exhausted. With 27 million tons of residual biomass produced each year during the pineapple harvest the world's annual production of shoes could be covered!
For her commitment, the entrepreneur was awarded the Cartier Women's Initiative Award and the Innovate UK - women in innovation award. Ananas Anam is also a certified B Corporation. This recognizes companies that meet the highest standards for audited social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
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European Inventor Award; https://www.epo.org/news-events/events/european-inventor/finalists/2021/hijosa_de.html
Piñatex – Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi%C3%B1atex
B-Corporation Certificate: https://bcorporation.net/
Image: Zapatos hechos con piñas, el modelo sostenible que prescinde del cuero (elperiodico.com)