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Kenyan company making sustainable textiles out of pineapple waste

Pineapples in Ivory Coast   -  
Copyright © africanews
Rebecca Blackwell/AP2011


As the fashion industry worldwide increasingly embraces more eco-friendly material, an innovative project in Kenya is turning leftover pineapple leaves into footwear.

"In the past we would burn or throw away or replant pineapple suckers,” said pineapple farmer, James Kinuthia.

“Later on we met with this company called Pine Kazi. We sell one sucker to them at 15 Kenya shillings each (USD $0.092).

Not only does it bring in extra revenue for the farmer, but it also creates jobs as people sort the leaves and extract the fibre, which is then dried, spun, and woven to make the textiles.

Pineapple fibre has long been used, but is labour intensive to produce and has until recently lost out in the era of cheap cotton and synthetics.

However, the idea is gaining global attention as the fashion industry and consumers focus increasingly on sustainability.

"Annually about 766 million tonnes of post-harvest pineapple leaves are usually produced and they are burnt or chemically decomposed,” said Pine Kazi’s CEO and co-founder, Olivia Awuor.

“So, by collecting this waste, for every 1,000 tonnes of waste we collect, we reduce carbon and methane emissions by 0.28 metric tonnes,” she said.

Betterman Simidi, founder of public sanitation advocacy organisation 'Clean Up Kenya', said the country had a fixation with "fast fashion" and that sustainable fabrics could form part of the solution.

Kenya imports thousands of tonnes of second hand polyester clothing each year as it is cheap and readily available.

Activists say this clothing ends up in landfills and water bodies, heavily affecting the ecosystem.

"When we see innovations where they are using sustainable materials, like for example pineapple waste, to make fibres that can be used to make clothing. These innovations are important and we need to encourage them," said Simidi.

As a social business venture, Pine Kazi also sources labour from local communities.

“We use these textiles to make eco-friendly fashion products like shoes and bags while creating meaningful and sustainable employment to vulnerable groups in the community," said Awuor.

However, lack of proper research and development laboratories and inadequate machinery prevents production of the shoes and bags in large quantities.

That doesn't stop Pine Kazi dreaming big about the future, having already attracted the attention of investors and won plaudits for its sustainable credentials.

Awuor is hoping to scale-up the project to other countries that produce pineapple waste as well, so that the problem can be solved at a global scale.

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