The designers’ constant desire to produce innovative fashion materials has led them to find the exquisite Philippine-made piña fabric. Actually, the right term is re-discover, instead of find, because piña fabric has been existing for a long time.
Made from the leaves of the Spanish Red pineapple variety, piña is the most lustrous native textile, which history dates back to the 1500s, or the pre-Hispanic period in the Philippines. Although it was popular among the aristocrats of the period, piña lost its lustre when the cheaper cotton-made fabric was introduced.
Piña, or pinya, is the Filipino term for pineapple, from which the fabric is derived. Piña fabric was originally used to make the Filipino men’s formal garment, called Barong Tagalog. Because of its naturally lustrous appearance, it spontaneously commands an ultimate statement of elegance. And, of course, it also stands as a status symbol of the wearer because only the affluent can afford to own a pure piña Barong Tagalog.
Over time, however, the use of piña fabric has broadened. You will now see women wearing piña-made formal dresses, wedding gowns, blouses and other formal attires. And, lately, not just Filipinos are using it.
When local and international stylists started using piña textile in their creations, many foreigners became interested in wearing piña-made clothing, too. Oliver Tolentino, who dressed celebrities like Carrie Underwood and Maria Menounos on their respective functions, was among the Filipino designers that pushed piña clothes into the limelight of mainstream fashion.
The revival of the weaving industry
The piña-weaving industry in the Philippines is actually an age-old tradition: this fabric became an in-demand textile worldwide in the 19th century, until the cheaper cotton-made clothes came in. Around mid-1980s, piña-weaving dwindled and eventually died since it was unable to compete with the much cheaper-priced and readily available cotton fabric.
But with the trend set by local and international fashion designers, piña weavers see the chance for a revival of the industry. In fact, they have started weaving again, although not many are working on it yet. They have seen a gradual increase in the demand of the textile. Its availability, too, is no longer exclusive of high-end boutiques. Some department stores are now showcasing piña lines. Hopefully, this increasing demand will create more jobs and income for weavers and rural people.
What makes piña fabric unique?
Piña cloth exudes a naturally regal look with timeless properties, that’s why it stands out among the rest of the fabrics. Particularly, it has these characteristics:
● it's lightweight;
● its appearance is similar to linen;
● it’s naturally glossy with high lustrea and it doesn’t need to be enhanced synthetically;
● the material is soft and fine;
● it has more texture compared to silk;
● it’s translucent;
● piña blends well with other fibres;
● it’s hand-washable and easy to care: you won’t need to dry clean it;
● piña weavers use only natural herbs and plants to add more colour into a design.
Most importantly, piña fabric comes from a sustainable resource. Pineapple plants take only about 18 months to mature and be ready for harvesting. Most farmers grow their pineapples organically because these plants grow better on soil that are not treated with pesticides and chemical fungicides.
Admittedly, a pure piña cloth is considerably expensive compared with other textile, but owning one is a real investment, because production is quite complex and time-consuming. It takes more than 8 hours to produce only one-fourth of a meter of cloth.
Besides, there are only few weavers in the country at present; that’s why it’s difficult for them to cope with demand. And despite the invention of modern machines to produce the fabric, most of the weavers prefer to use the traditional and manual method, for some reasons only they know. Perhaps, sentimental value has something to do with it. Weavers consider their craft an heirloom more valuable than precious gold and silver.
However, weavers have a way to make the cloth less expensive. They do it by interweaving piña with other fibre like silk, cotton or abaca, without compromising quality. A piña-silk combination is called piña-seda.
Piña cloth may also be coloured with vegetable dyes and embroidered with traditional decoration, a process called calado.