Soccer’s Chris Smalling on the Future of the Pineapple Fiber Piñatex

LONDON — Chris Smalling, who plays for Italy’s Series A Roma team, and who is also a vegan and healthy lifestyle advocate, is using his influence to let more people know about Piñatex, the plant-based material made from pineapple leaf waste that would otherwise be discarded.

Smalling first heard about Piñatex in 2019 when the company collaborated with Hugo Boss. “I was coming down with my wife to London, and one of the things on our list was to try and find a pair of the trainers,” he said over a Zoom call. At that time, Smalling was playing for Manchester United.

“Literally, soon after that, I just went on Twitter and found the email of Piñatex and I wrote to them: ‘I love what you’re doing and how can I help?’ It almost just evolved from there. It really opened my eyes up to the possibilities,” he added.

The textile’s creator, Ananas Anam, founded by Carmen Hijosa, describes Piñatex as “a natural, non-woven and patent-protected material made from pineapple leaf fibers,” and argues that it is durable, breathable and pliable. Last year, the company turned 825 tons of leaves into clothing fiber.

In addition, the company said the fiber’s tensile strength is similar to that of flax — and greater than jute, hemp and sisal. Ananas Anam said Piñatex has been used by more than 500 brands since it was commercialized in 2016.

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Ananas Anam was Smalling’s first investment in the fashion and textile sector. His other ventures include food and product innovations.

With more than a decade of experience playing in top soccer leagues, and a personal relationship with the brand, Smalling said he had been pushing for a Piñatex x Nike collaboration to happen from his side. One was released earlier this month.

The capsule features seven sneaker editions across five styles: The Free Run Trail Premium; the Air Max 90; the Air Max 95; Air Force One, and the Air-Zoom Type. All styles come with embroidered pineapple graphics on the tongues.

Chris Smalling wearing a pair of Nike sneakers from the Happy Pineapple Collection, which used pineapple leaf-based Pinatex as a replacement for leather throughout the collection. SEBASTIAN BARROS/ courtesy

Prior to this, Smalling said he had already been asking Nike to make sneakers and soccer boots using alternatives to leather.

“They have their own agenda to be more sustainable, and we can almost help each other in terms of [attracting] a global audience,” he added.

Looking beyond this collaboration, and having seen the development of Piñatex over the past few years, Smalling said he’s confident the organic textile will be able to scale, not only in the fashion industry but in other sectors as well.

He said that, with Piñatex, “there are so many different varieties and innovations going on. It isn’t a pigeonhole for one type of trainer or one type of garment. The trainers I got from Hugo Boss were a bit rough looking, but now the new yarns that are being produced are almost like cotton,” he said.

Smalling also revealed there are a few discussions underway to take the pineapple textile to more possibilities beyond fashion.

At the moment, Ananas Anam employs 33 people, 10 of whom are in the U.K., with the rest spread between Spain and the Philippines.

“Since I first came down to London, the team has been growing and growing. I think this is just a testament to how the company is growing, and how we need to keep up the demand, because I think lots of brands now see the versatility of Piñatex and what it can do,” he said.

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