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Cactus Leather: Does it Live Up to the Hype?

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How it all began: Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez


The story of cactus leather begins when two men, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, decided to change the rules. These Mexican entrepreneurs and innovators both come from leather-intensive industries. Adrián worked with leather in the automotive industry and Marte worked with leather in the fashion industry. So they were both aware of the impact this industry was having on the planet. 🌍

So the two men decided to join forces to create a leather the world had never seen, a leather made from the Opuntia cactus, the most abundant plant in Mexico. 

Their company founded in 2019 is called ADRIANO DI MARTI | DESSERTO and it is the first company in the world to make this type of leather through their patented cactus leather production processes. 

After some cactus stitching and two years of research, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez presented Desserto at the Lineapelle International Leather Fair in Milan in 2019. The enthusiasm for their products was impressive because of the originality and potential that their innovations bring. This leather also has interesting properties that add freshness to the leather market.  

"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," said López Velarde.

The duo do not plan to manufacture their products but rather to provide the raw material for major fashion and clothing brands. They prefer to focus on creating unique leather that stands out from the crowd rather than drowning in the mass by creating a clothing brand. Their aim is also to offer alternatives to the established brand instead of trying to compete with them. 

"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," stated López Velarde.

Desserto is a young company but everything leads us to believe that it will last in time, especially since the vegan leather market is growing every year and is expected to be worth 85 billion dollars by 2025, according to LiveKindly. The next challenge for the two Mexicans is to offer their products to more and more brands, especially smaller companies, which unfortunately have difficulty in obtaining their leather at the moment.  

"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," confessed López Velarde. 

Cactus leather can in theory be used to do everything that leather or faux leather already does. Even if for the moment it is mainly fashion that has taken advantage of it to make shoes or jackets. You now know the history of this surprising leather, now let's look at its origins. 

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What is Cactus Leather?

First of all, you have to understand that there are two categories of leather. Real leather is made from animals and faux leather can have several origins depending on several criteria. Cactus leather falls into the category of faux leather. This means that it is considered an alternative to leather. A viable alternative in fact! 

Because not all artificial leather is environmentally friendly, and while Desserto has an environmentally friendly product, the "vegan leather" story isn't all green, well all rosy I mean. The majority of fake leathers are made of plastic, the best known being PU leather (polyurethane leather). 

Cactus leather, on the other hand, is made from the Nopal or prickly pear cactus (itself part of the large Opuntia family of cacti). You know, it's that spiny, flat-stemmed cactus found mainly in hot, dry climates. This plant, which originated in Mexico, has now been naturalized in other continents, making it an important resource. 🌵

The plant is also known for its fruit, the "prickly pear", which is edible. This fruit is very sweet and can be eaten raw and has many nutritional and health benefits. Why am I telling you about this? You'll thank me the day you get stuck in a dessert in Mexico! 

Vegan Nopal leather is an interesting alternative for many reasons, with a lot of quality (which we'll see later) for fews flaws (same thing) this leather intrigues many. But how is it made?

desserto leather cactus sample

Photo credit: Courtesy of Desserto

How is Cactus Leather Made?

If you're hoping to find out the exact recipe to start your cactus leather business today you're in for a disappointment... Their method is well guarded and patent protected, but not everything is a secret. 🤫

First of all, the cactus grows on Adrián and Marte's certified organic ranch in the state of Zacatecas northwest of Mexico City. The first advantage is that the plant needs very little water to grow. Most of the time, rainwater is sufficient, the cacti are only watered once every 2 or 3 weeks in very hot weather.

The second advantage is that the cactus is not killed during harvesting because the core remains intact. Only the mature leaves are harvested every 6 to 8 months to give the plant time to regenerate. After harvesting, the leaves are cut, cleaned, crushed and then sun-dried for 3 days. No herbicides or pesticides are used for its growth. 

The contents are then mixed with non-toxic chemicals and this is where the magic happens. It's hard to know exactly what goes into the final product but one thing is for sure, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) supports them. 

You've got it, cactus leather is the champion of environmental protection, but what about its other characteristics? 

The Differences with Faux Leathers

In recent years, many new artificial leathers have invaded the fashion, automotive and even furniture markets. It is easy to get lost, is this pair of shoes made of bonded leather, vegetable leather, full grain leather? Especially as there are so many different types of leather available today: 

  • PU leather
  • Bycast leather
  • Split leather
  • Bonded leather
  • Jarcon leather
  • Piñatex leather
  • etc.

Since cactus leather is the newest addition to this category, how does it differ from other artificial leathers? Since it would be extremely time consuming to compare vegan Nopal leather with all other faux leathers I will focus on the most relevant comparisons. 

The majority of 'vegan' leathers are made with plastic and toxic chemicals, so the term has a bad reputation because it implies that these products are good for the environment when they are not. But some faux leathers like Piñatex or grape leather are vegan. Just remember that cactus leather is good for the environment, whereas most artificial leathers are not. 

As well as being better for the environment in its manufacture, cactus leather is partially biodegradable, which is not the case with plastic, which often ends up in a landfill in Malaysia or China after its few years of use. 

cactus leather clutch

Photo credit: Courtesy of Desserto

Cactus leather has a longer lifespan than most fake leathers. According to Desserto, their leather lives for 10 years, not bad for a plant. The life span of fake leather depends of course on its use and maintenance, but don't expect to age with your synthetic leather jacket or sofa.

As you have probably guessed by now, cactus leather is more robust than most fake leathers. This is an important part of making accessories that survive your lifestyle. It is also an important requirement for having a chance to compete with real leather, which is particularly tough. 💪

One of the biggest drawbacks of synthetic leather is its lack of breathability. This is a much desired characteristic, which is one of the reasons why leather is used in so many areas. The ability of leather to wick away moisture is very important, especially when it comes to sweat and bacteria. The skin of the cactus is porous which allows it to share this power with real leather, which is not the case with plastic.

With all these qualities, you are probably wondering what the point of buying synthetic leather is?  The answer is quite simple, it is cheaper, much cheaper than cactus leather. The price of cactus leather is comparable to real leather, we are talking about a luxury product that is not accessible to everyone. We must also take into account the fact that it is a newcomer on the market, its exotic and innovative side reinforces the idea that it is an exclusive product

To conclude on this part, cactus leather is globally better than synthetic leathers, but it is not accessible to everyone. We lack the information to be able to compare it in more detail with other environmentally friendly vegan leathers such as Piñatex for example. But how does it compare to real leather?

leather cactus handbag

Photo credit: Courtesy of Desserto

The Differences with Real Leather

Cactus leather presents itself as a competitor to leather, with similar prices and some almost identical properties, the question really arises, what are the differences between cactus leather and real leather? As with the previous section, it goes without saying that there is not just one type of genuine leather: 

I will again focus on the most relevant comparisons to keep this section relatively short and enjoyable to read. 

The first advantage of cactus leather is that it does not require the death of an animal to exist. It is no secret that leather originally comes from skin, mainly from beef, although it can come from any other species. 🐮

Another obvious advantage is that cactus leather is environmentally friendly, which is not the case with leather. This is the argument most emphasised by Desserto, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, and leather is one of the pillars of this industry.  

Cactus leather is as soft and breathable as leather. It is also relatively robust. This is also the case with real leather of course, but these are quite rare characteristics for an artificial leather. In addition, like all vegetable tanners, it is more resistant to stains and water than traditional leather. 

However, cactus leather is much less durable than real leather, which can live for several decades. Despite the robustness of cactus leather, it is difficult to find a more durable material than leather in the clothing industry. ⏳

Leather's durability has other benefits, such as its vintage look, which makes it timeless. Its durability allows it to age while retaining its strength. The unique patina process embellishes the leather over time. The older a leather gets, the more beautiful it becomes.  

Leather is more affordable than cactus leather over time. The reason that leather is so popular even with a more humble clientele is that its cost/wear ratio is extremely low. Buying one leather bag is cheaper than buying several bags of average quality. 

Unfortunately, we still lack the information to compare cactus leather with real leather in more detail. Most articles repeat over and over that cactus leather is more environmentally friendly without addressing the other aspects of the product. So if you take one thing from this section it is that cactus leather is a more responsible purchase while leather is a safer and more sustainable purchase. 

cactus leather material

Photo credit: Courtesy of Desserto

Pros and Cons of Cactus Leather

Pros of Cactus Leather:

    • According to those lucky enough to get their hands on it, the texture of cactus leather is smooth and soft
    • Cactus leather is robust, and for good reason, it is one of the strongest faux leathers, a requirement to make it viable in the various markets where leather is already present.
    • As I mentioned earlier, the prickly pear is a plant that is abundant in Mexico and very present in other countries. 
    • This leather is partially biodegradable 
    • The breathability of this leather is probably its most valuable quality. The skin of the cactus is porous which allows it to easily evacuate perspiration for example. 
    • The prickly pear requires very little water to grow. "The idea of using this raw material was conceived because this plant does not need any water to grow, and there is plenty of it throughout the Mexican Republic. Also, symbolically, it represents all of us Mexicans and everybody knows it," explains López Velarde.

If you want to try cactus leather, we can only recommend Desserto products but also Santa Playa products. We selected down below a few reasonably priced cactus leather items from them that you could enjoy.

Cons of Cactus Leather: 

  • The colour of vegetable leather will not move over time, you can see it as a quality or a flaw, but any good leather lover likes to see their accessory age with them. 
  • According to Desserto, their leather is durable, about 10 years. That's more than most fake leather, it's less than real leather.
  • It is an expensive material that is aimed at a wealthy minority. 💰
cactus leather founders

Photo credit: Courtesy of Desserto

Wrapping Up

Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez have created a unique product of sufficient quality to compete with leather in many areas. Will it replace it? Probably not, but it is without a doubt one of the most interesting innovations in the fashion world for a long time.  

But cactus leather is still young, so it's still too early to tell whether this alternative will become a staple of vegetarian leathers or not. But one thing is for certain, traditional leather is not going to disappear any time soon. So whether you're on the side of cactus leather or real leather, let us know why in the comments! 

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Author: Felix

Felix is a very curious person who is always looking to learn and explore. Always in search of the unknown, he hopes through this blog to share with you his passion for adventure and vintage objects

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