Piña fabric: transforming pineapple leaves into eco-wear


The piña fabric finally made a niche in the fashion industry. It’s now a world-class material for high-end products. Thanks to the effort of the local designers and the recognition of the international market as one of the best eco-wear.

Piña comes from the word pineapple. Yes, the Philippine-made fabric is made of pineapple leaves, particularly from the Spanish Red pineapple variety. Historically, this type of clothing material was meant to be a men’s formal attire, called Barong Tagalog. During the pre-Hispanic period, the aristocrats and a handful of wealthy Filipinos wore a piña-made Barong as a status symbol. It’s because this kind of textile was – and still is – an expensive material.

Since it exudes an aura of elegance, piña almost instantly became the queen of Philippine fabrics. In no time, trading of this textile reached as far as Greece and Egypt. In the 19th century, piña became an in-demand fabric worldwide. Until cotton-made clothing was introduced. Around the mid-1980s, piña weaving dwindled, and eventually ceased. It was not able to compete in terms of prices with the cheaper and readily available cotton. Added to the problem was the lack of new weavers to replace those who have retired due to old age.

Lazada Philippines
Piña fabric rediscovered

Thanks to the local fashion designers’ belief on the Philippine-made fabric, piña saw a revival. They believed that there’s a great potential of the indigenous material beyond the local market. At the same time, a handful of individuals and entrepreneurs also saw it fit to save the dying piña weaving industry. And they so decided to push piña into the limelight, packaging it as an elegant high-end fashion. Some of the piña weavers, on the other hand, see such move as a good economic resource. It also meant recognition of their labor. But then, other weavers were skeptical about the idea of reviving the industry. But despite this challenge, the few dedicated workers persevered. For them, weaving is not a mere income-generating effort. It’s their life!

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife wearing Barong during the 2015 APEC Summit

Today, the piña garment has finally found a niche in the fashion industry. It’s no longer an exclusive Filipino clothing anymore. Rather, the high-end clothing line sees an increasing popularity among many fashionistas from across the globe. Personalities like Carrie Underwood and Maria Menounos, among many others, have been seen wearing piña clothes on their respective special events. Foreign delegates to the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which the Philippines hosted, were also made to experience wearing a piña-made Barong Tagalog.

Following the exposure of the textile in the international market, many international designers and dressmakers have expressed interest in piña.

Unfortunately, though, there’s not much supply of the cloth in the market yet. What abounds, though, are the finished products of piña Barong, dresses and other ready-made clothing items. The handful of weavers can’t cope yet with the demand for bulk orders of the textile. Processing of the fabric is very tedious and time-consuming. It takes a whole day to produce only a quarter of a meter of the cloth. It also requires tons of patience and passion on the part of the weavers to come up with those intricate finished products. But hopefully, the piña weavers of Aklan will find a way to increase production.

Properties of piña

What makes the piña textile stand out among the rest of textiles? Its regal and timeless properties! Piña exudes a naturally beautiful and elegant look.

  • it’s fine, translucent, and has a similar appearance to linen
  • naturally glossy with high luster
  • the cloth is softer than hemp
  • it has more texture than silk
  • lightweight
  • it’s easy to care and washable, no dry cleaning required
  • it blends well with other fibers

Aside from the Barong Tagalog, wedding dresses, blouses, and gowns, weavers also make other elegant products out of piña. Table linens, handkerchiefs, and fans are now available in the market. They also make bags, mats, paper, and many novelty items from the pineapple fabric. All of which are in-demand.

Expensive textile

A 100% pure piña cloth can be very expensive. But it’s a real investment, nevertheless. Piña weaving is considered an heirloom, more valuable than the precious gold and silver. As I’ve mentioned earlier, processing of the fabric is laborious, as you can see in this video.

Despite the availability of modern machines for mass production, most weavers still prefer to use the traditional hand looming method. Perhaps, a sense of sentimental value has something to do with it.

But the good news is that piña weavers devise a way to reach out to a wider range of market as much as possible. They do a piña mix-and-match strategy to bring down the cost of the textile and make it more affordable to many. And this is without compromising quality.

When piña is blended with silk, the resulting clothing material is called piña seda, or piña-silk. And when it is combined with jusi, the result is stronger and more translucent clothes. Jusi is a fiber made from abaca.

A piña garment can also be manually embroidered with traditional decorations called ‘calado’. In calado, the garment bears designs that are colored with vegetable dyes.

How much does a piña cloth cost?

Due to its scarcity and complex production process, piña cloth is considerably expensive. Depending on the material used and design, you can buy it at $25 to $35 per yard. A ready-made piña-jusi Barong Tagalog costs between $80 and $90. While a Filipiniana dress, or a lady’s formal wear, can cost from $150 and up. Expect to pay higher for a 100% pure piña material because it’s the most difficult to make. Beyond the prices, however, you are compensated with high quality and long-lasting clothing.

Sustainability

The pineapple plant is a sustainable source. It takes only about 18 months for the plant to reach maturity and ready for harvesting. The plants respond better to rich soil that is untreated or unexposed to fungicide, and other chemicals. Thus, pineapple growers cultivate their pineapple farms organically. In other words, pineapple crops mark a friendlier footprint on the environment.

Furthermore, the pineapple fabric produces a naturally high luster. It does not need any synthetic gloss anymore. And even if the material has to be dyed to create other colors, weavers use only natural herbs and plants to produce the desired tints on it. Therefore, the piña clothing is classified among the best eco-wear.

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