Pineapple Leather: Could This Be The Plant-Based Option Your Luxury Handbag Dreams Are Made Of?

BY Nina Catt / Oct 23 2019 / 14:00 PM

Designer Amanda Navai takes a slice out of 40,000 tonnes of yearly global pineapple waste to produce a collection that is every bit as sweet as the illustrious exotic snakeskin styles she is renowned for

Pineapple Leather: Could This Be The Plant-Based Option Your Luxury Handbag Dreams Are Made Of?
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Never before has the topic of sustainability been more prevalent than it is today and when it comes to fashion (an industry that is one of the world’s biggest polluters), many brands are starting to take the leap into environmentally friendly production and manufacturing methods to keep up with the new age of consciousness.

With consumer demand for sustainable practices at an all-time high, you may be wondering what a pineapple and one of the Middle East’s most prominent luxury exotic leather handbag brands, Navai, have in common. Here, Nina Catt speaks exclusively to Iranian-Swedish designer, Amanda Navai about her brand’s new collection, The Azadi Conscious London Chapter, and discovers how an article about an environmentally friendly fabric created from fruit leaves sparked a new idea…

Amanda Navaian wears The Tate

HBA: Congratulations on the new collection, it’s gorgeous. How long has The Azadi Conscious London Chapter been in the making?

Amanda Navaian: Thank you very much! It all happened quite organically. My father emailed me an article about a fabric called Piñatex around two years ago. I then started doing more research around sustainability and ‘slow fashion’ and also fell in love with the story of Dr. Carmen Hijosa, the founder of Piñatex. So, I guess from hearing about the material to conception, rendering and development - it took around two years.

HBA: What can you tell us about Piñatex?

AN: The global pineapple industry produces 40,000 tonnes of waste pineapple leaves each year which is usually discarded or burned. Piñatex is a natural leather alternative made from fibres extracted from these redundant pineapple leaves. It was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa who embarked on a seven-year PHD in her late 50’s resulting in the creation of the new innovative material. I always love to support other women, especially those that are courageous enough to embark on new challenges later in life and want to make a positive change. I want to be a part of that change and to engage with low impact, high responsibility products.

HBA: How many styles are in the new collection?

AN: There are 17 different styles in the collection. Each pays homage to the city of London, referencing the capital’s neighbourhoods, landmarks and notable people such as The Chelsea, The Tate and The Elizabeth.

HBA: What are the challenges you have faced in producing the new collection?

AN: Getting to know a new material is challenging. But to be honest the most challenging part has been the question of how an exotic leather brand is now launching a line using vegan-friendly materials, and that these two concepts don’t go together. But for me they go very well together. We are now offering two alternative materials that are a better choice than traditional leather and PVC. As a brand it has always been important to be a part of change and pushing boundaries which we accomplished when we launched in 2010. Now we are evolving and introducing a new line to sit alongside our original collections which aims to create change. I believe in giving people a choice and offering them options.

HBA: Is the design and construction process for the new collection any different to making bags from exotic skins?

AN: The design process is not that different, but we do need to think about the feeling of this material, how it looks and what styles it best lends itself too. In terms of construction it’s a little tricky when it comes to interior materials. Often for structured bags you will have a leather piece in between the exterior leather and the interior to give it more support. With the new collection we had to run a few tests to see what material we could use instead of leather. We found that thick cotton worked best. Many brands use cardboard which we would like to stay away from to keep our bags luxurious. Also, for the interior of the bags we usually use genuine leather and so again we needed to think of another material which was quite challenging as we still want it to look rich when our customers open their bags. We went for raw silk which is a very expensive choice, but it looks fabulous.

HBA: Are there any plans to make the new collection completely vegan by replacing the silk interior with another material?

AN: Moving forward we will probably switch to cotton as that is the best material to use if you wish to be conscious. We need to figure that out for next season!

HBA: In what other ways is the new collection environmentally friendly?

AN: There is a reduction of waste and water usage due to the source of Piñatex and zero harmful chemicals or animal products are used during the making of this modern material making it a far-cry from the ecologically toxic leather tanning processes. It also adds an additional income to farmers.
On another sustainable note, 100% of our bags are made under the same roof. In our production we don’t use heavy machinery but focus on producing handbags by hand, the traditional way. We are not a mass-produced brand, we focus on adhering to slow fashion.

HBA: Why do you think a lot of brands are starting to look to more environmentally-friendly processes right now?

AN: I believe a big reason is because the consumer is demanding it. As always, the opinion of the client is key and currently this is the direction consumers are going, so we as designers must follow suit. Also, designers are becoming more socially-conscious as we are seeing what fast fashion is doing to the Earth and so many of us want to improve and want to make better choices for a better future. I was super excited to learn that powerhouse label, Chanel had used Piñatex as a trimming on the collar and cuffs of a coat in one of their collections – it felt nice that I had used the same alternative fabric at the same time as an iconic brand.

HBA: What is your favourite piece from the collection?

AN: I love the V&A because it combines fashion and art.

HBA: What’s next for the brand?

AN: We currently have a line of sandals which we’ve always created using our leftover materials. Once we gather enough leftovers from our new luxe leather alternative line, we will be doing the same. Watch this space.

The Azadi Conscious London Chapter is currently available in the Middle East at Amandanavai.com and will soon be available in-store at Bloomingdale’s