Two Guys In Mexico Successfully Make ‘Vegan Leather’ Out Of Cacti
Two men in Mexico have successfully made ‘leather’ out of cacti and, not only is the design better for the environment, it looks identical to its animal skin counterpart.
It’s not new information that leather is bad for the environment, from feeding the livestock to the production of it, but new Mexican brand DESSERTO have created an innovative new way to create the popular material without harming animals or the environment in the process.
DESSERTO was founded by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez. The pair met in Taiwan nine years ago while studying – Adrián was doing his bachelor degree while Marte was learning to speak Chinese.
The year after they met, Marte returned to Mexico to work in the fashion industry, but Adrián didn’t do so until 2017, instead staying in Taiwan to work in the textile industry. Following Adrián’s return to Mexico three years ago, the pair met up again.
Adrián told UNILAD what happened when the pair reconnected:
In 2017 I meet Marte again in Mexico and we both shared our job experience which was directly related to fabrics. We were both aware of the environmental impact that these were provoking in the environment, so we decided to quit our jobs and focus on developing a plant based fabric to help reduce the environmental impact of these industries.
The ambitious pair started their brand DESSERTO in early 2018 and successfully created their cacti leather by September 2019. They then debuted it in Milan, and their innovative idea went down a storm.
Adrián explained how they came up with the game changing idea:
While looking for a plant based solution, we had to focus on a plant which was abundant in Mexico that did not require a lot of water nor care with herbicides or pesticides with the aim of reducing environmental footprint of the fabrics and being scalable to the industrial stage. Also, a protein in cactus has natural impermeable and adhesive properties which is very useful in the construction of our bio-resins. On the other hand, cactus represents us all as Mexicans as it is even present in our national flag, so we are glad we worked with it.
The response from the market was great following our debut last year and the brand has been growing since then. We received many positive comments such as our material being the most appropriate for its use in luxury fashion given the smooth at touch feeling, quality and the aspect of the material among all other sustainable options.
The leather industry has been damaging the environment for centuries, with it first being used back in the Ancient Greek times, yet it’s taken up until now to find a sustainable alternative.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 70% of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared over the past 50 years to create pastures or to grow feeding crops for livestock. While DESSERTO reports an area the size of the UK is lost each year.
Some would argue using cattle skin is a way of eliminating waste, as it’s not needed in the meat industry. To an extent, this is justifiable – however, it’s the tanning of the leather that’s so detrimental to the environment, due to its reliance on a toxic slush of Chromium salts and tanning liquor. Around 80% of the worlds leather is tanned this way, so it’s easy to imagine the damage it’s doing to the environment.
DESSERTO, however, use an extremely natural harvesting process that involves no animals and no chemicals.
Adrián explained the process of creating their vegan leather, saying:
Here in México, in the state of Zacatecas, we have a ranch where we grow our raw material: cactus. At the ranch we select and cut only the mature leaves of the plant without damaging the cactus itself, so every six to eight months we will [collect] a new harvest.
We do not use an irrigation system for the cactus, it grows with rain water and the earth minerals which are rich in Zacatecas and great for the variety of cactus that we plant. The selected cactus is very resilient and strong, it can handle low temperatures during winter without dying and its thorns are very small so it’s easier and safer for our agriculture team to harvest.
Within the ranch, after cutting the mature leaves, we dry them under the sun for three days until achieving the exact humidity levels that we seek. So, there’s no oven or additional energy used (like gas) in this drying process. Then we process the organic raw material to make it part of our patented formula, which allows us to make the Cactus Vegan-Leather which we call DESSERTO.
The ranch is fully organic, so there are no herbicides nor pesticides used. All the remaining organic cactus material not used in our process is exported and sold nationally in the food industry, so you can imagine how organic and safe our material is.
While DESSERTO isn’t bringing out its own range of leather items just yet, you may end up wearing or sitting on their products without knowing it, as the company are mainly selling to the fashion and automotive industry for the moment.
As Adrián said:
We are going to keep our efforts with the same intensity and passion as the beginning by improving, innovating and offering the best sustainable fabrics. Also, we work hard on making DESSERTO available for everyone in order to help relieve the environmental problem we are facing, and support the transition of these industries into more ecological ones.
Hats off to the pair for creating such an organic, environmentally friendly product. Here’s hoping it will go on to replace its harmful counterpart in the future.
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