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This Singaporean Innovator Turns Pineapple Leaves into Sneaker, Denim-Ready Fibers

Nextevo is putting an unconventional spin on sustainable fibers and yarns, turning to pineapples as the source of its spun fabric with the help of local farmers in Thailand and Indonesia.

The material producer, established in June 2019 and headquartered in Singapore, blends ready-to-spin fibers with other eco-friendly materials including organic cotton, Lyocell and recycled polyester for denim apparel, sneakers, upholstery and bath towels. And it’s in good company, too, with brands like Nike tapping pineapple-derived materials for unconventionally sourced products.

In particular, Nextevo works with the farmers to collect pineapple leaves that are used to make the yarns. These leaves are common agricultural waste from pineapple cultivation in Southeast Asia, as significant volumes of pineapple leaf waste are often burnt, discarded into landfills or composted, resulting in harmful environmental impacts.

Over the next three years, the material innovator says it aims to supplement the income of approximately 5,000 farmers in Southeast Asia. With operations in Thailand and Indonesia, the sustainable fiber producer is working toward a goal of creating zero waste, saying its mission is to transform agricultural waste at scale into sustainable value-added products for everyday living and agricultural applications.

Agricultural waste collection provides additional income for farmers in Southeast Asia.

All raw materials, processes and practices involved in blending the fibers are designed to be in line with five United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), from the source to the customer, the company says.

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Nextevo founder Harold Koh has a history with pineapples, having spent nine years as CEO of Great Giant Pineapple, the single largest integrated green production facility worldwide. From there, Koh was able to build an extensive network in the country’s agricultural sector, including growing relationships with many farmers.

Organizing the process in Thailand was a year-long journey from proof-of-concept to production, the company said. Trial production started in late September with the pineapple leaf fibers (PALF) production volume expected to scale-up by the first quarter of 2022.

The joint venture in Thailand between Nextevo and Jinny Tantipipatpong, chairman of pineapple cannery producer Siam Agro-Food Industry (SAICO), is structured so that the operations assemble a vertically integrated supply chain. This includes the sourcing of the pineapple leaves and processing them into ready-to-spin fibers and blended yarns for manufacturers, making premium consumer products for brands globally.

The demand for sustainable fibers has never been greater. At last month’s Sourcing Journal Sourcing Summit, Kevin Myette, director of global brand services with Bluesign Technologies, pointed out that it will take more than just recycling to truly impact the circular economy.

“If recycled materials [are] part of your strategy, then choosing the feedstock is just the beginning of it,” Myette said, fitting well with Nextevo’s strategy to use leaves that would otherwise be used to produce unnecessary waste. When accounting for energy, water and climate, Myette said, “studies all agree that the primary place where most of the impact happens is where materials [are] actually being produced.”

Given Nextevo’s proximity to local farmers and Koh’s industry ties, the fiber producer can better adhere to these principles and build on the sustainability commitments that so many brands, particularly in the denim space, hope to achieve.

Nextevo’s coming out party is making waves as another fiber innovator, Adidas and Levi’s partner Evrnu, raised $15 million in Series B financing to scale and meet the demand for its fiber regeneration platform, NuCycl. Overall, 2021 has shown that the bigger names in fashion are willing to give more attention to these outside-the-box fabric producers. While Spinnova IPO’ed with financial backing from H&M, Adidas and The North Face, material science companies like Natural Fiber Welding and Infinited Fiber Company, both have formed partnerships with Patagonia. NFW and Infinited Fiber also have big name retail investors of their own, with the former securing funding from Allbirds and the latter gaining backing from H&M and Zalando.

The Southeast Asian fabric spinner isn’t just settling on one fruit to transform textile production. Alongside its work with pineapple leaves, Nextevo is also planning to expand its sustainable materials to include waste from coconut husks in Indonesia. The firm plans to expand into processing the husk waste by the second quarter of 2022. Nextevo uses the husk’s pith for cocopeat soil and using its coir—the fibrous material found between the fruit’s hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut—for bedding mattresses and cushions.

The fiber innovator is partnering with Indonesian farmer groups, as well as local coconut producer, Sambu Group. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of coconuts, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database.

Koh plans to expand Nextevo into to other types of agricultural waste in Southeast Asia to provide sustainable value-added solutions at scale.