Animal alternatives: the plant-based textiles enhancing green credentials 

Instagram-friendly design solutions are all the rage in luxury hotels, particularly those looking to ramp up the desirability of exclusive guest experiences. In London, food design studio Bompas & Parr has found a way to weave a key consumer trend into the hotel space, creating the ‘world’s first’ vegan guest suite that is decked out exclusively in plant-based materials. We find out more about the textiles used to furnish the suite.

Image credit Maria Andersson

The promise of pineapple

Finding a vegan-friendly material to replace the animal-based textiles commonly used to decorate hotel suites was a central challenge for Bompas & Parr. The solution was a breathable, leather-look material called Piñatex, made from the cellulose fibres of pineapples, which the design team dubbed their ‘hero leaf’.

Developed by Dr Carmen Hijosa, Piñatex is a non-woven textile, developed for use as a low-impact alternative material to mass-produced leather and PVC products.

Pineapples only flower and fruit once, which means that once they have been harvested, the leaves are left behind as a waste product, often burned or piled up to rot down. But Piñatex gives new life to these leftovers, transforming them into a versatile and durable material that doesn’t require extra land, water or fertilisers to grow.

To make the material, long cellulose fibres are stripped from the pineapple leaves through a process called decorticating. It takes about 480 leaves to produce one square metre of the material and the remaining biomass can be used as fertiliser or a biofuel. Once the fibres have been separated, they go through an industrial process and are felted together into a mesh.

The finished textile is surprisingly versatile and can be adapted to suit the intended use of the finished product. It can be dyed, printed and treated to give the material different textures, such as the leather-look finish used throughout the design of the Hilton’s Vegan Suite. Bompas & Parr utilised Piñatex in a variety of areas, including the headboard in the bedroom and cushions in the sitting room, which feature embroidered pineapples by local artist Emily Potter. Piñatex also features in armchairs and pouffes. Even the hotel room key card is made from Piñatex.

Hardwood flooring without the hardwood

There are roughly 1,500 different bamboo species growing around the world, but when it comes to manufacturing, the giant bamboo species Phyllostachys Pubescens, or ‘moso’ bamboo, is the only option that fits the bill for high-quality products such as panels, beams and flooring. Although giant bamboo isn’t technically classified as a wood, it shares many of the same properties as hardwood, which means that flooring made from the material can be used in a variety of heavy duty environments.

In the Hilton’s Vegan Suite, moso bamboo has been used to create the stylish, stone-grey flooring. Given the eco-conscious focus of the design, it is understandable why the 100% renewable and sustainable resource would appeal to those following a plant-based lifestyle. Unlike hardwood species, which can take more than 50 years to mature, giant bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and can reach a final length of up to 20m in only a few months, making it a far more sustainable alternative to traditional hardwood materials.

Cottoning on to carpet alternatives

Given the name, wool carpets were not going to fly in the Vegan Suite, so in their place Bompas & Parr opted for organic and responsibly sourced cotton carpets. Keeping with the overall theme, these carpets are in earthy and muted tones, with hints of vibrant green.

As a natural material, cotton doesn’t come with the environmental issues that plague plastic-based carpets. While the latter may have notable staying power, they are a headache when it comes to disposal. In contrast, the organic fibres of cotton carpets will decompose over time, which makes it easier to reduce the environmental impact of material once it is no longer in use.

For designers, the versatility of cotton can be an enticing factor, particularly because the range of weaves and fibres available makes it possible to create reversible rugs in a variety of different colours.

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All images credit: Bompas & Parr