For the past few years, research on finding sustainable alternatives for leather has been going on. The traditional leather that’s made using animal hides isn’t an environmentally friendly method.
Apart from the hate for animal cruelty, the realization of how the fashion industry has been contributing to environmental pollution also created a wave of awareness.
As a result, people started to seek sustainable alternatives for their beloved luxury leather goods.
The search came to an end when two Mexican gentlemen interested in fulfilling the same vision, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, came up with the idea of using cactus as a means to produce leather.
The Mexican pals used nopals, otherwise known as prickly pears, to make leather.
Nopal is a famous edible cactus in Mexico served with its tropical food. The new vegan cactus leather is now famously known as Desserto.
A cactus is a highly resilient plant known mostly for its adaptations and growth habits for survival in the extreme conditions of a desert.
The scorching sun, low precipitation, rising daytime temperature, freezing nights, and sandstorms are some of the most common environmental and climatic problems a cactus endures on a daily basis.
The plant has learned to adapt to the desert ecosystem and its arid and semi-arid climate thanks to its gooey interior that stores water and the hard yet flexible exterior that saves it from other environmental assaults, making it perfect to be a leather alternative.
Making perfect fake leather had taken manufacturers on long rides. Plastic, cork, and pineapple leather are some of the most popular leathers.
However, none of the raw materials gave a real feel and appearance of real leather.
Cactus, on the other hand, works perfectly as a vegan leather raw material. Here are some reasons:
The natural environment of a cactus is harsh on the plant’s exterior. The plant survives thanks to its skin, which helps it stay put even when the conditions worsen. This makes a cactus highly durable.
Cactus leather is made from the skin extracted from nopal cactus’s leaves and pads. The outermost covering of these cacti is highly tensile.
It means that the leather extracted from the nopals can be stretched easily to convert them into sheets for manufacturing purposes.
Though highly flexible, a cactus’s outermost layer is also thick. The thickness of the skin can also be perceived as the perfect material required for making leather.
Conventional leathers, though soft to touch, are thick so that they can provide protection from the environmental elements. Cactus leather can do the same.
The slightly rugged texture of the cactus’s skin gives it a great sensory feel. Such a texture is perfect for making leather as it resembles the texture of conventional leather.
Since cactus is adapted to survive in a desert’s harsh climatic and environmental conditions, the outermost skin also becomes abrasion resistant.
This way, the cactus leather would be easily able to endure marks. Even when passed through extreme conditions, the cactus leather would be able to survive.
Like any skin, a cactus’s skin is also porous. The porous surface allows the skin to breathe while helping the rest of the plant exchange fluids and gasses.
When cacti skin is converted into leather, the material also becomes breathable. This quality is crucial as leathers can trap the body’s sweat and heat within.
A breathable leather would help the body to exchange gasses from underneath without causing the body to lose all the necessary heat.
Why Is Cactus Leather Better Than Traditional Leather?
There are numerous reasons why people started seeking alternatives to traditional leather as the years went by.
Here are some of the reasons why cactus leather is a much-preferred leather as compared to conventional animal hides:
Animal hunting and killing had surged to meet the rising demands of conventional leather made from animal hides.
While the dedicated consumers of leather didn’t mind, people were hurt seeing the animal cruelty taking place in different parts of the world to extract hides.
Cactus, on the other hand, has no hand in animal cruelty as the method of growing cactus is highly sustainable.
Linking the previous point, cacti are farmed sustainably. The harvest of cactus is produced every 6-8 months.
Since the perennial plants also last for more than eight years, there’s plenty of time to grow more cactus, keeping the environment green.
Apart from that, the cactus skin is only taken from the leaves and pads of cacti, ensuring that the stem of the plant stays put, and the area isn’t destroyed for the harvest.
Cactus farming doesn’t require much water. In the region of Mexico where cactus for producing Desserto is cultivated, there’s a sufficient amount of rainfall which is enough for cactus production and growth.
As cacti are adapted to survive in severe conditions and without much water, the plants don’t need a complex irrigation system or other water channels for their growth.
Even in the worst conditions, watering the crop every 2-3 weeks would suffice for the cactus to grow healthily.
For producing goods from conventional leather, animal hides were often treated with numerous chemicals for a number of reasons, including killing the animal smell, cleaning up the hide for production, etc.
The waste material of all these processes was spilled carelessly into the water bodies, polluting the environment.
Cactus leather is not treated with any chemicals. The entire process, from growth to the production of leather, uses no toxic chemicals that could cause environmental pollution.
The plants also have zero amount of fertilizers, nor need a pesticide to keep the pests and bugs away (thanks to the spines), alleviating the risk of harmful compounds of the pesticides or fertilizers from polluting the environment.
Unlike conventional leather, cactus leather is partially biodegradable. It means that once the usage of a certain product ends, the product can partially decompose with the help of bacteria present in the environment.
This process allows the product to gradually end instead of sitting for years at a landfill, increasing environmental pollution.
Numerous types of vegan leather out in the market can’t survive the day-to-day assaults of the environment and give out faster than conventional leather goods.
However, cactus leather has a lifespan of more than eight years.
Compared to traditional leather, the cactus leather’s lifespan doesn’t stand any competition, but eight years is a relatively long time for a product to last.
How Is Cactus Leather Produced?
Cactus leather production isn’t a tiring process but can last for days. Since no chemicals are involved in treating the leather, the process is rather easy than the production of traditional leather.
The primary raw material, cactus, is cultivated to maturity before the fully developed leaves are collected without harming the plant itself.
Accordingly, a fresh crop is harvested every 6 to 8 months.
Thanks to the healthy soil of Zacatecas, Mexico, the region where cactus for Desserto is commercially harvested, the cactus is grown by precipitation and without the need for artificial fertilizers.
For going through this process, the best leaves are extracted from the plant.
Since durability and tensility matters the most, the leaves selected are thoroughly examined for these characteristics.
The leaves that are finally selected are sun-dried with no additional chemicals.
The process of drying the leaves under the sun is crucial as it allows the leaves to reach a certain humidity level before being processed.
After the organic material required from the leaves is obtained, it’s mixed with the patented formula of Desserto to produce the leather.
The formula is added to add anti-corrosive properties to the material while also making it more resilient.
The remaining unused organic material is used in food products around the country.
After getting through some more processing steps, a cactus leather, aka Desserto, is manufactured to perfection.
The vegan leather is then used to manufacture handbags, shoes, and other common leather accessories.
The texture of the leather, as well as the sturdiness of the material, has made Desserto quite in demand.
The leather can also be obtained in a variety of colors, increasing the options for the customers.
The leather industry has been circumventing ethical boundaries for a long time.
Apart from killing innocent animals that could come in handy for producing greenhouse gasses, the industry is also a major contributor to environmental pollution.
During the production of conventional leather, several toxic chemicals are used to treat the animal hides without a second thought about the environment.
Additionally, the non-biodegradable leather products end up in landfills polluting the environment for decades.
Cactus leather, aka Desserto, is an environmental, human, and animal-friendly alternative to traditional leather.
While looking and feeling the same as conventional leather, the sustainable methods of acquiring the cactus leather make it unique and more preferable amongst the crowd.
Cactus’s durability and resilience have made it the most suitable raw material for vegan leather to date.
Besides serving the desert ecosystem, the plants are now serving people in becoming fashion-forward for less price.
The accessibility of cactus leather is still a challenge. However, sustainable cactus farming will pave the way for the world to enjoy vegan leather products.