how to make vegan leather from cactus

a cactus leather wallet in the foreground, with a prickly pear cactus in the backgroundDESSERTO

  • Two Mexican entrepreneurs have come up with a concept that uses cacti to create vegan leather.
  • Because cacti survive in the desert, there’s no need for irrigation systems, significantly cutting down on natural resource usage.
  • The cactus leather, called Desserto, can be used in boots, coats, accessories—pretty much anything in which you’d use raw hide leather.

Whether you call it faux leather, vinyl, or pleather, polyvinylchloride (PVC) clothing has gotten a pretty bad rap since it first hit the scene in the 1960s. But somewhere along the line, we stopped thinking of leather alternatives as cheap fakes, and shifted the conversation to leathers that are vegan, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.

According to Google Trends data, that about-face occurred in 2016, when weekly searches for “vegan leather” began to outnumber similar searches for “pleather” or “fake leather.” Since then, materials science engineers and fashion designers have been scrambling to come up with the next great leather alternative, from recycled plastic bottles, to grass, to even wine-based leather.READ THISEverything That Goes Into Making a Danner Boot

Now, two Mexican entrepreneurs think they’ve found the best leather substitute yet: the Opuntia cactus, otherwise known as the prickly pear.

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Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez hail from two industries that create a ton of pollution: automotive and furniture. Seeing the environmental havoc that their former jobs were creating, they decided to use their design skills for good, creating a new cactus leather they call Desserto.

green cactus leather sample

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Their agricultural team harvests the prickly pears on a ranch in Zacatecas, northwest of Mexico City, every 6 to 8 months, and selects only the most mature leaves from the plants for processing. Because the cacti plants are perennials, the team can plant once and sow the rewards for about 8 years.

After collecting the cacti leaves, the team dries them under the sun for 3 days until they achieve just the right level of humidity. Again, this is a natural tanning process, so no excess power sources are necessary

a harvest of prickly pears

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Not only is cactus leather cruelty-free, but it also significantly cuts down on the usage of natural resources, like water. Cacti grow just fine with rain water alone, meaning Velarde and Cázarez don’t use an irrigation system for their plants.

In fact, Opuntia cacti only require about 200 liters of water to produce one kilogram of dry material, whereas other plants, like corn, can require upward of 1,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of solids.

When you consider it takes an average of over 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of leather shoes, this makes a vast difference—especially because Velarde and Cázarez are planning to commercialize their cactus leather for the likes of purses, shoes, and even clothing in the luxury fashion industry.

cactus leather samples in green, beige, black, white, and wine colors

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Velarde and Cázarez are still in the research and development phase at their new company, Adriano Di Marti, but they say the European market is ready to embrace their vegan cactus leather, based on feedback they received at last year’s International Leather Fair Lineapelle in Milan.

Fashion experts have apparently lauded the cactus leather for its buttery smooth texture and flexibility. Velarde and Cázarez say they’re in close contact with high-profile companies that might be interested in collaborating.

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