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Source: COURTESY OF DESSERTO

Cactus leather is the newest eco-friendly fabric

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There are so many fashion brands on the market making gorgeous vegan leather goods that are totally animal-free — but most of those brands use plastic-derived materials to achieve the look. However, a new brand out of Mexico called Desserto is shaking things up by turning nopal cactus leaves into organic, all-natural, cruelty-free leather. Desserto is the first cactus-based leather on the market, and the material has the potential to make the vegan leather industry much more sustainable.

Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez debuted their innovative brand Desserto, created by their company Adriano Di Marti, at the International Leather Fair Lineapelle 2019 in Milan last month. And then last week, Desserto showed at RawAssembly, a sustainable raw materials sourcing event in Australia. Vogue Australia reported that Desserto had the most buzz of all companies at the entire event — so the brand is certainly one to watch out for.

As reported by Fashion United, Desserto's cactus leather is organic, partially biodegradable, soft, durable, and high enough quality that it can be used to make clothing, accessories, furniture, and even car interiors. “After two years of research and development, we managed to produce a suitable material that complies with the features and technical/mechanical specifications required by those industries that use animal or synthetic leather,” co-founder and vice president Adrián López Velarde told Fashion United in an interview. 

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Source: COURTESY OF DESSERTO

López Velarde and Cázarez came up with the idea for Desserto after learning about the plastic pollution crisis. As explained by Fashion United, the two innovators were intrigued by the nopal cactus because it grows in abundance throughout Mexico and does not require any water to grow. They spent the past two years doing research and development, and finally figured out how to turn nopal cactus leaves into the perfect cactus-based leather.

The purse and wallet pictured are just samples made from the cactus leather — López Velarde and Cázarez do not plan to make their own products, but rather sell the fabric to other designers and fashion brands. "It’s the right time to offer this alternative, because not only are consumer industries interested in new materials like these, but also more and more end-consumers are demanding environmentally friendly materials," López Velarde told Fashion United.

That said, it's unclear when brands will start producing cactus leather products using Desserto. "The biggest challenge we have encountered is finding a way to make our materials accessible for small and medium-sized companies, because sometimes minimum purchase quantities are a barrier for them," López Velarde said. "This is why we always try to have an inventory so they can buy small quantities, and we are also working with potential suppliers who can make our materials available for everyone. 

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Source: COURTESY OF DESSERTO

Most vegan leather goods are made from plastic, either PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane), which both contain toxic chemicals, phthalates, and traces of bisphenol A. These items are not biodegradable, and often end up in landfills when they are no longer wearable. That said, buying vegan leather, even if it is plastic-based, is still more environmentally friendly than leather items made from animals, for several reasons. For one thing, many resources are needed to raise animals for leather, including huge amounts of land, water, and feed; livestock (especially cows, which are often used for leather) emit significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas; and their feces pollute the air, soil, and waterways, putting local communities in danger, according to the NRDC.

Not to mention, animal-based leather is not the "natural" material that many make it out to be, due to tanning. After the animals are slaughtered, their skin is treated with tanning agents including formaldehyde and chromium, both of which the EPA classified as human carcinogens, as per the American Cancer Society. Because of all the chemicals used to tan leather, the material is actually filled with too many chemicals to ever biodegrade.

As Stella McCartney put it in an interview with Vogue: “An animal decomposes when it’s natural, but after all the chemical treatments [applied] to a leather handbag, it isn’t going to decompose in your wardrobe. That product is staying alive because of the chemicals that heave been put on it — because if you just had a dead animal in your closet, it would be a very different situation.”

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Source: COURTESY OF DESSERTO

And on top of the decreased environmental impact of buying vegan leather (especially a biodegradable option like cactus leather), it's also more animal-friendly, as no animals need to be killed to make vegan leather.

Desserto only just launched last month, and the company is already making waves — so it will be interesting to see what ways Desserto shakes up the vegan leather industry, which is on track to be worth $85 billion by 2025, LiveKindly reported.

So until Desserto becomes available to the public, keep your environmental impact low by not buying any new leather. Piñatex is using pineapple leaves to make vegan leather, numerous brands are making high-quality synthetic leather goods, and you can also shop secondhand for both animal-based and vegan leather.

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