Founder of Piñatex: Meet Dr Carmen Hijos

It makes my skin shiver with excitement when I hear about game changers like this. It is a great pleasure to share with you this talk with Carmen, founder of the most innovative new material on the market called Piñatex.

Dr Carmen Hijosa is a Spanish citizen who went to the Philippines to develop the leather industry and came back with something very much the opposite of leather. Meet Carmen, founder and CEO of Ananas Anam, the developer of Piñatex, the alternative to leather, environmentally friendly, sustainably made of pineapple from fair trade crops in the Philippines. After working on this for 15 years, Carmen is being heard and everyone wants to use her fabric for clothes, shoes, accessories and more.

It is vegan, toxic free, biodegradable, sustainable, cruelty free, multi functional and it is made of pineapple!

Carmen received the 1st Class Honors for her degree in Bachelor of Design in Woven Textiles (1995-1999), she went on to do a Masters in Textile Design (2000-2002) both in The National College of Art and Design Dublin, Ireland and did her PhD 2009-2014 Royal College of Art & Design London with Piñatex. The design development of a new  sustainable material.

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Dr Carmen Hijos

photo by David Stewart for Wired

Piñatex creation is a game changing invention. What were/are the biggest hurdles to overcome?

The hurdles are different in different times but I guess getting people to listen and put their trust in the project is the biggest one since this is all so new and the concept can be “surreal”. This made looking for funding difficult and finding the right research and manufacturing partners and go from an idea to a proof of concept to a final product. Also, gathering the right people/team and collaborators were a challenge because you want to find people that are aligned with your vision and who truly believes on the project to make it happen. Also, being totally a new product, Piñatex has to find its niche in a market segment that is very competitive and price conscious.

Has ecology been part of Carmen’s concerns in other fields in her life? 

Yes, of course. Ever since finding out about the negative effects of the leather industry, Carmen has always been very aware of how much negative impact we can give to the environment. This is why she tries as much as she can to help save the environment and being conscious on decisions she makes o her everyday life like using less paper in the office, using recycled coffee cups, using stairs instead of the lift, etc. She also encourages everyone in the office to try and do a little something everyday to help and now, most of us use recyclable cups and use the stairs going in and out of the office.

“ The world needs integrity when developing new products!”
— Carmen Hijos

Where does Carmen visualise Piñatex to grow over the next years? more goals and dreams?

For Piñatex to be accessible to everyone, not just for the few but for the many. This is because Piñatex is not only good for people but it is most importantly, for the betterment of the world. By using a waste product (pineapple leaf fibres) to create a new material, we help the environment to regenerate itself to its original glory. Also, due to traceability and giving importance for our social impact — to benefit everyone in the supply chain anywhere in the world. Carmen’s goal is to always share knowledge and empower people, especially women that we can do it and we can always do it better.

What are Carmens favourite unconditional items in her wardrobe and where does she allow in compromise? 

Her wool Yamamoto jacket that she wore during her graduation. It has superb quality and has a timeless design. She likes items that are long lasting, with good quality and pieces that play with shapes and colours.

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pinatex fibres.jpg

When Carmen is not working, how does she wind down from all the work and excitement? Any favourite go to places, activities, books ….?

She likes to swim, walk and meet with friends.

Leadership attracts followers and sparks innovation, is there anyone/anything out there we should keep our eyes on that Carmen loves, believes in or supports?

The Cradle 2 Cradle philosophy has been her main inspiration. Also, she is inspired by Ray Anderson who made the first free lay carpet tiles, which revolutionised the industry from petroleum based to being something sustainable. Before his death, he led his company Interface to achieve Mission Zero which aims to eliminate any negative impact given to the environment by 2020 by either pioneering new technologies or using renewable materials.