From pineapple waste to shoes

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020 00:00 | By
Pineapples in a farm. Photo/COURTESY

Breaking the plant-harvest-dispose cycle of the fruit production, the trio that makes up Pine Kazi is creating eco-friendly footwear and reducing wastage.  

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

In Kenya about 80,000 tonnes of pineapple waste is produced monthly. This waste is either eliminated through burning or decomposition, releasing tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane gas, which are harmful greenhouse gases.

Now, a new innovation by three Africa Nazarene University students is turning this waste into eco-friendly shoes.

The idea was born in early 2019 when Olivia Awuor, Angela Nzomo, and Mike Langat, toured Delmonte pineapple farm and saw huge piles of pine waste pushed to the side of the farm to decompose.

“That encounter prompted us to do some research. We realised that crop waste management is a serious challenge in Kenya, and it’s often ignored and uncontested. We vowed to solve the problem,” said Olivia, chief executive officer, Pine Kazi.

Compelled to solve this problem, they embarked on a journey to find a solution.

After six months of solid research and hard work, they developed their first pineapple based textile, which they used to make some bags.

“When we were starting out, the country was transitioning from use of plastic bags to environment-friendly ones.

Since we had managed to come up with a pineapple based textile, this was a big opportunity for us; that is why we decided to venture into bag making at first,” she explains.

However, it didn’t take them long before they realised the industry was highly regulated.

They had to go back to the drawing board to see what next. After research, they saw another gap, which needed to be filled.

Then the government had made local shoe production a national priority, considering that most shoes sold in Kenya are imported.

“We worked with textile engineers who guided us and gave us knowledge that was useful and necessary in crafting the shoes. Currently, we have shoe artisans who craft our unique pineapple shoes,” she says.

Massive push

She adds, “We evolved to focus on shoes because they need less equipment and offers more design versatility.

So far we have ventured into other products such as bags, mats, and carpets. Our customers are eco conscious millennials around the world.”

While Angela and Olivia are passionate about art and design for shoes, Mike is passionate about numbers and technology and heads the finance operations.

Angela runs the general and marketing operations, and Olivia runs the executive parts of Pine Kazi.

They are currently working with farmers in Gatundu to source pineapple waste. They have also connected with big farms to source mass amounts of the raw product.

The big farms are ready to give them pineapple leaf waste, but this requires more financial investment.

The group is also developing natural plant dyes for the pineapple textile.

And how does it work? Olivia says that after getting the pineapple leaves – the raw material- they separate them into fibres and biomass (the latter is converted into fertiliser or bio fuel).

They extract the fibre from the leaves through decortication, with long fibers then felt together to create a non-woven substrate.

The substrate is then purified before it is weaved into different products.

On a single day, they produce eight to 10 pairs of shoes with a pair going for about €40 (Sh5,094) in the US, which is their target market.

The uppers of these shoes are made from woven pineapple leaf fibre, which is then dyed.

Though demand has been high, lack of funds and the right investors has limited their capacity to scale. Locally the price ranges from Sh1,500-2,500 based on cost of production.

“Currently our target market is the US because there is a massive push for adoption of sustainable footwear by 2021, meaning our sales are expected to hit €280 million.  This will help us expand to other countries, especially Europe and Asia,” Olivia says.

Circular mode

So far the team has sold about 40 pairs of shoes and order keeps coming. According to Olivia, demand for their shoes is high because the product is affordable when compared to other available sustainable footwear options in the market, which go for about €112 (Sh14,260).

She says that, the products are hand made with love and have a classic style with a purpose and unwavering resolve to stay off the beaten path, and they are after all vegan.

Further, 16 pineapples yield enough fibers to make one square meter of Piñatex, which is a little cheaper than leather and promises less wastage.

Their cradle-to-cradle approach encourages pineapple farming communities to move from a linear model of plant-harvest-dispose to a circular model of plant-harvest-reuse.

Their future plan is to be the dominating company internationally while using ‘pineapple waste’ to make a variety of eco-friendly products

“Pine Kazi connects waste management with product designers thus reducing waste.

Our process is sustainable, innovative and produces high quality products of international standards,” she says in conclusion.

More on Commerce