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AFTER serving 9 years as president and chief executive officer of Indonesian fruit supplier Great Giant Pineapple (GGP), Harold Koh was familiar with agricultural waste but was initially unconvinced when he was told it would be the next big thing.

“I told my friend, ‘you are asking me to become a karang guni (scrap dealer)’,” said Koh, whose previous experience included more than 10 years in executive roles at General Motors and machinery firm Hiab.

However, the conversations with that person – who is one of the owners of Indonesia coconut specialist Sambu Group – which began in March 2019 subsequently sparked an idea in Koh.

In June that year, leveraging on the network of industry partners he formed while at GGP, he started Nextevo – a sustainable textiles startup that extracts pineapple leaf fibre and turns it into cotton-like ready-to-spin fibre.

Together with other materials, such fibre can be spun into blended yarn, which is then used to make items such as towels, footwear and denim jeans.

The added materials include spandex, recycled polyester and lyocell, which Koh acknowledges may bring down the green factor of the resulting spun yarn.

Still, it’s a small step forward, he said. Even if pineapple leaves form just 20 per cent of a product, that is still “20 per cent saved” compared to less green options.

This is not Koh’s first sustainability-related endeavour. He had started a business in biomass-produced biofuel while still at GGP, but left the project after a difference in vision with his business partners. Despite his initial scepticism, extracting pineapple leaf fibre was a natural course to take, given the end-to-end understanding of the pineapple industry’s processes that he had gained while at GGP.

He noted that farmers were usually unable to dispose of leftover pineapple leaves in a sustainable way, and would instead burn or toss them into landfills.

By buying the unwanted leaves, Nextevo is able to help these farmers “bring down their carbon footprint” and earn extra income at the same time, he said.

The company sources leaves from farmers in Thailand and Indonesia, with whom Koh had connected via his partners.

Nextevo also formed a joint venture (JV) with Jinny Tantipipatpong, chairman of Thailand-based pineapple cannery Siam Agro-Food Industry Public Company (Saico), to obtain leaves from pineapple farmers that supply Saico, thus creating a “vertically integrated” supply chain.

Through this JV in Thailand, Nextevo began trial production of its fabrics in October last year, around 15 months after its initial plans to start production.

Their plans had been delayed as they were unable to secure manufacturing equipment due to Covidrelated supply chain issues.

Recalling how he had to get over the initial discomfort of closing deals via video conferencing, Koh added: “It’s either you sit and wait for Covid-19 to be over, or you … stand up and do something about it.”

Nextevo has since procured the required machinery and appointed a contract producer, and hopes to begin commercial-scale production from July this year, he said.

The realm of agricultural waste is diverse even in South-east Asia alone, given the region’s wide variety of crops, and Nextevo is going beyond pineapple leaves, said Koh.

Coming full circle to the conversations that sparked Nextevo, the company now works with Sambu Group to collect the leftover husks from its coconut production.

Nextevo is working on the processing of cocopeat for “soil amend-ments” – material that is added to soil to improve its qualities – in what Koh dubs “farm to farmland”, alongside the “farm to fashion” use of pineapple leaf fibre.

Cocopeat provides an alternative to peat moss, with the extensive extraction of the latter having come under scrutiny in recent years, as the process releases carbon dioxide from peatlands.

This is in line with Nextevo’s quest for sustainability, as farmers seek greener options, noted Koh. “The demand for cocopeat is growing, and with Indonesia and the Philippines being (among the) world’s largest coconut producers, there is plenty of cocopeat (to be made).”

Along with cocopeat, Nextevo is also turning leftover coconut husks into coir fibre – a tough, string-like material usually used to make ropes and upholstery – and figuring out how to produce them commercially for mattress stuffing.

Meanwhile, as its commercial products are being trialled, Nextevo is providing knowledge and materials to local loungewear brand Nost, as part of an initiative under DesignSingapore Council.

This will go towards a line of products created by artisans in Indonesia and India, slated for launch in May this year.

Koh hopes to bring natural fibre to a wider market in the future, with plans to venture overseas, although the Nextevo team still remains small.

But the 61-year-old relishes the chance to “do everything himself”, after having spent most of his career at the head of large corporations.

A few of his peers might choose to do the same, he acknowledged. “Many of my friends… go on vacations, pick up hobbies.” With the work at Nextevo having been not just challenging but also fun and meaningful, Koh added: “This could be my hobby too.”

By Megan Cheah

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Spinning sustainable fibre out of unwanted pineapple leaves

02 Nov 2021
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Media Features

 

AFTER serving 9 years as president and chief executive officer of Indonesian fruit supplier Great Giant Pineapple (GGP), Harold Koh was familiar with agricultural waste but was initially unconvinced when he was told it would be the next big thing.

“I told my friend, ‘you are asking me to become a karang guni (scrap dealer)’,” said Koh, whose previous experience included more than 10 years in executive roles at General Motors and machinery firm Hiab.

However, the conversations with that person – who is one of the owners of Indonesia coconut specialist Sambu Group – which began in March 2019 subsequently sparked an idea in Koh.

In June that year, leveraging on the network of industry partners he formed while at GGP, he started Nextevo – a sustainable textiles startup that extracts pineapple leaf fibre and turns it into cotton-like ready-to-spin fibre.

Together with other materials, such fibre can be spun into blended yarn, which is then used to make items such as towels, footwear and denim jeans.

The added materials include spandex, recycled polyester and lyocell, which Koh acknowledges may bring down the green factor of the resulting spun yarn.

Still, it’s a small step forward, he said. Even if pineapple leaves form just 20 per cent of a product, that is still “20 per cent saved” compared to less green options.

This is not Koh’s first sustainability-related endeavour. He had started a business in biomass-produced biofuel while still at GGP, but left the project after a difference in vision with his business partners. Despite his initial scepticism, extracting pineapple leaf fibre was a natural course to take, given the end-to-end understanding of the pineapple industry’s processes that he had gained while at GGP.

He noted that farmers were usually unable to dispose of leftover pineapple leaves in a sustainable way, and would instead burn or toss them into landfills.

By buying the unwanted leaves, Nextevo is able to help these farmers “bring down their carbon footprint” and earn extra income at the same time, he said.

The company sources leaves from farmers in Thailand and Indonesia, with whom Koh had connected via his partners.

Nextevo also formed a joint venture (JV) with Jinny Tantipipatpong, chairman of Thailand-based pineapple cannery Siam Agro-Food Industry Public Company (Saico), to obtain leaves from pineapple farmers that supply Saico, thus creating a “vertically integrated” supply chain.

Through this JV in Thailand, Nextevo began trial production of its fabrics in October last year, around 15 months after its initial plans to start production.

Their plans had been delayed as they were unable to secure manufacturing equipment due to Covidrelated supply chain issues.

Recalling how he had to get over the initial discomfort of closing deals via video conferencing, Koh added: “It’s either you sit and wait for Covid-19 to be over, or you … stand up and do something about it.”

Nextevo has since procured the required machinery and appointed a contract producer, and hopes to begin commercial-scale production from July this year, he said.

The realm of agricultural waste is diverse even in South-east Asia alone, given the region’s wide variety of crops, and Nextevo is going beyond pineapple leaves, said Koh.

Coming full circle to the conversations that sparked Nextevo, the company now works with Sambu Group to collect the leftover husks from its coconut production.

Nextevo is working on the processing of cocopeat for “soil amend-ments” – material that is added to soil to improve its qualities – in what Koh dubs “farm to farmland”, alongside the “farm to fashion” use of pineapple leaf fibre.

Cocopeat provides an alternative to peat moss, with the extensive extraction of the latter having come under scrutiny in recent years, as the process releases carbon dioxide from peatlands.

This is in line with Nextevo’s quest for sustainability, as farmers seek greener options, noted Koh. “The demand for cocopeat is growing, and with Indonesia and the Philippines being (among the) world’s largest coconut producers, there is plenty of cocopeat (to be made).”

Along with cocopeat, Nextevo is also turning leftover coconut husks into coir fibre – a tough, string-like material usually used to make ropes and upholstery – and figuring out how to produce them commercially for mattress stuffing.

Meanwhile, as its commercial products are being trialled, Nextevo is providing knowledge and materials to local loungewear brand Nost, as part of an initiative under DesignSingapore Council.

This will go towards a line of products created by artisans in Indonesia and India, slated for launch in May this year.

Koh hopes to bring natural fibre to a wider market in the future, with plans to venture overseas, although the Nextevo team still remains small.

But the 61-year-old relishes the chance to “do everything himself”, after having spent most of his career at the head of large corporations.

A few of his peers might choose to do the same, he acknowledged. “Many of my friends… go on vacations, pick up hobbies.” With the work at Nextevo having been not just challenging but also fun and meaningful, Koh added: “This could be my hobby too.”

By Megan Cheah

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