LOS ANGELES — Pineapples aren’t just for piña coladas anymore.
As fashion seems to become more sustainable, designers are experimenting with unusual materials – such as pineapple, cactus and cork – to create handbags and other garments traditionally made from vinyl or leather.
Instead of relying on the synthetic, petroleum-based fabrics that dominate fashion, Remington Reble and other designers are using vegan textiles meant to help care for the environment.
“Concern for the environment is growing. And so with that comes these conscious choices to change the way you live and consume,” said Reble, an Arizona State University fashion graduate who makes handbags from cacti.
Suppliers of plant-based leather alternatives tout their products as being good for the environment because they don’t contain toxic chemicals and, of course, don’t involve animal cruelty.
The trend delights animal rights activists.
Plant-based leather is a “better option because it doesn’t involve factory farming, which is where animal leather comes from,” said Ashley Byrne, spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. .
Helga Douglas, designer of the Los Angeles fashion brand Svalamanufactures pineapple and cork handbags.
“I was always on the lookout for handbags and accessories made from more sustainable, animal-friendly fabrics,” said Douglas, who sells her bags online. “And I couldn’t really find exactly what I was looking for. That’s why I created Svala.
Its handbags are made of a leather-like material called Piñatex, which is derived from pineapple leaf fibers collected by agricultural cooperatives in the Philippines. Processing is completed in Spain.
Because Piñatex is a byproduct of pineapple harvesting and does not require additional water or fertilizer, its manufacturer says on his site that it is one of the most durable textiles on the market.
She said customers are always curious about Piñatex, but she assures them they won’t smell like a tropical cocktail. The product holds up if taken care of properly, Douglas said.
“It really does require a bit of maintenance the same way you maintain leather,” like the occasional waxing and polishing, she said.
Cork bags from Svala are also popular, Douglas said. Unlike corks in wine bottles, the cork is finished in a way that makes it smooth to the touch with a shiny finish.
Adding to its durability, cork bark can be harvested without killing the tree; the bark simply grows back. Douglas said Svala has partnered with a nonprofit that helps plant trees.
In Arizona, Reble recently launched its brand Ribelle to market its cactus handbags. The project is tied to his upbringing as a native of Arizona.
“My mom…sent me an article about cactus leather,” he said. “And then that combined with living my whole life in Arizona. It clicked right away.
He gets his cactus leather from a company called Desserto, based in the Mexican state of Jalisco. On his websiteDesserto says the material is made with nopal cactus pads.
Desserto says he grows his cactus without irrigation. The pads are harvested every six to eight months, then cleaned, crushed and dried for three days. Non-toxic chemicals are mixed with the organic raw material to produce a leather substitute. Because the thorns are removed during the treatment, wearers don’t have to worry about being stung.
Reble said the cactus leather substitute has the same feel as traditional leather. Other companies use the cactus for jackets and automobile seats.
For instance, Mercedes-Benz says its new Vision EQXX electric car “is made with animal-free textiles — like cactus fibers, mushrooms and vegan silk — that provide a luxurious finish, from the upholstery to the door handles.”
Vegan leather substitutes are a little less durable than animal leather because they are thinner and more susceptible to cracks and tears. However, careful use can extend a product’s lifespan by up to 10 years, Reble said.
Like Reble, Douglas is enthusiastic about these materials.
“I think it’s really great to have a very durable and eco-friendly fabric,” Douglas said.