The Queen of Philippine Fabrics: A glimpse into the production of Piña, a pineapple-based fiber
Piña is a natural fiber derived from the leaves of the Native Philippine Red Pineapple. A luxury fabric softer than hemp and glossy like silk, the use of piña in garment-making provides many benefits: it is lightweight, low-maintenance, and blends well with other fibers.
Origins & Revival of Piña
Piña production in the Philippines dates far back to the 16th century, during the era of Spanish colonialism. While local inhabitants were already well-familiar with the practice of fabric-weaving using natural plant fibers, piña-making was originally introduced to them by the Spanish colonizers. By the 19th century, piña fabric became heavily demanded worldwide, and was especially popular among Filipino aristocrats, serving as a status symbol for those who owned piña barongs or baros (formal shirts). However, in the 1980s, piña weaving declined as it failed to compete with more affordable and readily-available cotton fabric.
In later decades, Filipino courtiers began to incorporate piña into contemporary and high-end wear, keeping the age-long tradition of piña weaving alive. Today, the market for piña continues to expand around the world—primarily into North America and Europe—making piña a leading export from Kalibo, the capital of the Aklan province in the Philippines. Though piña fabric remains relatively expensive due to its scarcity and tedious production process, it has evolved from a mere symbol of elitism into one of Philippine pride and national identity.
The Stages of Piña Production
Pagkigue: Mature pineapple leaves are harvested from the field, and the thorns along the edges of the leaves are removed by hand. The epidermal (top) layer of the leaf is scraped away using a coconut shell or pottery shard to uncover bastos, a coarse fiber used to make twine. After the bastos is removed, the leaf is turned over and scraped again. This time, linawan, the finer inner fibers used to make piña, is revealed and extracted.
Paghugas & Pagpisi: The linawan is washed (paghugas) under running water and any remaining plant material is grated away with a clamshell, turning the fibers white. After being hung to dry, shorter fibers of less use are removed and disposed of (pagpisi).
Pagpanug-ot, Pagtalinuad, & Paghaboe: Individual fibers are knotted seamlessly together by hand (pagpanug-ot), and then spun into spools (pagtalinuad). The piña threads are woven into a cloth on an upright two-treadle loom (paghaboe). Piña fibers can also be blended with cotton, abaca (banana leaf fiber), or silk for greater strength and durability. Blending piña with silk results in piña seda, and blending with abaca results in piña-jusi. Finally, piña cloth can be decorated with a traditional style of hand-embroidery, a technique called calado.
WATCH: Weaving Piña Cloth (via Youtube)
Piña: A Sustainable Luxury
From start to finish, the process of traditional piña weaving generates a high-quality product without incurring environmental consequence. The base component used to make piña—pineapple leaves—is an agricultural waste product of pineapple harvesting; no additional environmental inputs (eg. water, fertilizer, etc.) are necessary to produce the raw material for the fabric. Because piña threads are characteristically tensile-strong and lustrous, they require no chemical refining or extensive maintenance (aka no need for dry cleaning). And lastly, since piña, piña seda, and piña-jusi are composed of natural fibers, they are biodegradable, making them the ideal eco-textiles.
The Philippines alone has nearly 59,000 hectares of pineapple plantations, whose yield can provide 55,483 metric tons of piña fiber per harvest. While the uses of piña were previously limited to composite materials (mats, ropes) and garments, its applications have expanded into other fashion accessories (bags, shoes), home furnishings (curtains, upholstery), and even vegan leather (find out about Piñatex here).
With the demand for sustainably-made products (such as organic cotton tees) on the rise, why are people yet to own piña apparel in their wardrobes, let alone become aware of the existence of this age-old fabric?
Currently, the main limitation lies in the piña fabric supply. Since piña fiber extraction and weaving employs complex, time-consuming techniques, it can take a weaver a whole day to produce a mere quarter meter of the fabric. As a consequence of low supply, piña textiles remain expensive and generally inaccessible. To transform the market for piña from a niche into one of global reach, piña-based products must be marketed and promoted (especially on the principle of sustainability) in order to increase their visibility to everyday consumers. More importantly, the industry must develop an efficient and systematic approach to produce piña on a large scale, without sacrificing its low environmental impact.