For the Saenyai Weaving Group, a textile community enterprise in Pluak Daeng District, Rayong, it all began when they made monk robes for an annual ceremony in 2013. Since then, they have succeeded in producing fabrics from fibers made from pineapple leaves, which are leftover resources from the agricultural sector, and are now developing new products made with recycled plastic fibers in collaboration with the Chemicals Business of SCG, with the goals of promoting the circular economy, maximizing resources, creating sources of livelihood, and elevating the quality of life in communities.
Pattakan Wattanasahayothin, Director of the Provincial Office and Informal Education Center in Pluak Daeng, was the person who brought the villagers together and spearheaded the initiative to develop fabrics that are unique to Rayong.
“Originally, we made only monk robes with traditional handlooms. It was in 2015 that we started thinking of branching out to outfits made with mangosteen leaf-dyed, hand-woven fabrics. During the process, we also looked for other local materials that could be made into textiles that would tell the story of our community. We looked to our motto, a part of which says “sweet pineapples.” Pineapples were grown across our district, and once the fruits were harvested, the leaves were cut off. Then, it occurred to us that tough pineapple leaves could probably be turned into fibers for weaving.”
Through trial and error and by studying the strengths and weaknesses of the pineapple fiber fabrics produced in the Philippines, the community enterprise eventually successfully developed their own textile in 2018. They combined pineapple fibers and cotton fibers in a 40:60 ratio, perfectly balancing the toughness of former and the supple softness of the latter.
“One important advantage of pineapple fibers is their toughness, which allows them to withstand detergents and washing machines and extending the lifetime of the clothes. In addition, the color of pineapple fibers also adds character to the fabrics and helps exfoliate the skin of the wearer as well. By pounding pineapple fibers in stone mortars to remove jagged edges, we soften the fabric and eliminate the abrasiveness found in the Filipino counterparts. In addition, pineapple fibers absorb perspiration well, so they are comfortable.”
Apart from fiber quality enhancement, the weaving group has also developed a new fiber extrusion machine, which not only shortens the process but also eliminates the need to scrape each leaf with a spoon first and other problems encountered when using machines that existing on the market.
“We met SCG in an expo and learned that they were researching fibers made from recycled plastic. Together, we started experimenting to see how plastic fibers could be combined with the fibers that we had. Now, we’re using our fibers as the warp and plastic fibers as the weft and are working on the ideal proportion. We also expect the weaving of these fibers to be more challenging compared to cotton, which is soft and can hold the pineapple leaf fibers in place. On the other hand, plastic fibers are slippery, so it takes more skills to weave them and the shape of the resulting fabric is still irregular. However, at least our team has broadened our horizons and learned that cotton threads are not the only material that works; plastic fibers can be woven into a fabric as well.”
SCG has been working closely with the weaving group to get their feedback on the recycled plastic fiber, which has played an important role in its development. Also, in support of the group, the company has given them new looms with flying shuttles, which speed up weaving, and organized activities that have helped them earn recognition on the provincial and national levels.
“Making textiles from plastic fibers is not about just product development. It has altered the villagers’ attitudes and encouraged them to start managing their household waste. They are beginning to think twice before using plastic products and sort their waste because they now know it can be recycled or reused, which makes it valuable,” concluded the director.
The initiative has not only led to the development of an innovative product but also promoted the principles of circularity in a way that is relevant and readily applicable to the lives of the locals, which will enable them to create a sustainable source of livelihood and manage local resources sustainably.
A shirt is equivalent to 114 plastic cups (PET or PP) and 12 pineapple leaves.