Spanish designer and entrepreneur Dr Carmen Hijosa, now living in Dun Laoghaire, has been named a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2021 for her sustainable alternative to leather. Co-founder of Chesneau Leather Goods in Kilkenny in 1977 and a director of design at the company for 15 years, she then worked as a textile consultant for the World Bank who asked her to consult on the Philippine leather industry.
In 2013 she founded Ananas Anam, having developed a process for turning pineapple leaves into a soft, durable and versatile natural material and alternative to leather. Her environmentally friendly alternative supports local farming communities and is sought after by major international fashion brands. "She has shown how innovation can deliver sustainable alternatives" said the European Patent Office (EPO) president, Antonio Campinos.
The European Inventor Award, launched by the EPO in 2006, is one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes honouring individual inventors and teams of inventors. Finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury of international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research. The award is conferred in five categories and Hijosa has been nominated in the SME category. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on June 17th at a digital event for a global audience.
Conventional leather production is controversial given the vast resources needed to raise cattle for slaughter, the risk of pollution posed by the chemical heavy tanning process and the often dire working conditions in tanneries. "Pineapple leaf fibres are very strong, fine and flexible and have been used in the Philippines for 300 years in traditionally handwoven textiles," Hijosa says.
Her 12-year research and development process involved completing several textile degrees, setting up a company and refinancing her house to keep researching and completing her PhD before successfully creating the textile called Pinatex. It consumes much less water than textiles such as cotton which consumes over 20,000 litres of water per kg.
Since 2013 the turnover of her company has roughly doubled every year through to 2019 and grew by 40 per cent in 2020. It employs around 10 staff in London and works with factories in the Philippines and Spain as well as the biggest Filipino pineapple growing collection comprising 700 families who benefit from an additional income by supplying waste leaves. Pinatex is currently used by hundreds of brands in 80 countries in a growing range of products from trainers to jackets, car interiors, handbags and even in the world's first all vegan hotel suite.