Cactus Leather: The Complete Guide

illustration of cactus

Many people don't know the difference between real leather and vegan leather. Vegan leather is made from synthetic materials like polyurethane, while real leather comes from animals like cows and sheep.  The animal rights movement has been fighting for decades to get everyone on board with this new trend of vegan alternatives that are supposedly more environmentally friendly, humane, and sustainable than their animal-based counterparts. These faux products typically come in a variety of colors as well as prints that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with natural hides. With so many benefits to choosing faux over the "real" thing, it's hard not to want to switch!

While real leather gets plenty of bad press for the animal rights abuse that is rampant within the industry, artificial or vegan leather has its issues. Often referred to as pleather - stands for plastic leather - the materials that these leathers are made from can stay in landfills for years once thrown away.

The Truth About Vegan Leather

The types of materials that vegan leather goods are often made from are a huge cause for concern. Generally, they are made from plastic-like materials, such as PVC and PU (polyurethane), and can contain toxic chemicals like phthalates which may lead to hormone disruption among other things in humans while also containing trace amounts of bisphenol A - a compound known to cause reproductive problems; not only does this make the item harmful environmentally but also poses health risks when exposed over time through wear or digestion by animals who would consume them!

What’s Pleather? Artificial Vegan Leather Explained
In this guide, we explain the basics, ethics and usage of Plastic Leather, often referred to as “pleather”.

Cactus Leather: A Plant-Based Alternative?

Because of the plastic-based artificial leathers that abound in the market, in recent years, many innovators have started looking at alternative raw materials. Founders and scientists have successfully managed to create products from a range of different organic materials such as Mycelium cells (fungi), apple leather as well as Nopal leaves (cactus).

Cactus leather is a natural, sustainable, and easy-to-grow alternative to traditional leather. It is a sustainable material made from the Opuntia Cacti, also known as Nopal. The inventors of this innovative product are Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez who founded Desserto bring it into production for people around the world looking to do something good without having all sorts of negative impacts on wildlife or their health; this company manufactures eco-friendly products right in their home country, Mexico.

Related: Plant-based Vegan Leather Suppliers

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How is Desserto Cactus Leather Made?

To produce Desserto Cactus Leather, the main raw material, cactus, is grown to maturity after which the fully-grown leaves are harvested without causing any damage to the actual plant. This means that a new harvest is produced every 6-8 months. The cactus is grown with rainwater and no artificial fertilizers are added because of the nutrient-rich soil of  Zacatecas in Mexico.

The best Nopal leaves are selected for their resilience and strength. Because of their inherent ability to handle extreme temperatures, the leaves can handle low temperatures during the cold months. One of the best parts about using cactus as a raw material is that the plantation is perennial. This means that their plantation lasts for a cycle of 8 years!

After harvesting, the leaves are dried under the sun for a couple of days to achieve desired humidity levels. This organic material is then processed via a patented formulate to create Desserto. The leftover organic material that is not used in the production process is exported and sold in the food industry.

After the leaves are dried, the next part of the production process is to create the leather that is used in various products. For this, it is combined with a variety of non-toxic chemicals in order to make it more resilient and prevent corrosion. The result is Desserto, a vegan and organic leather alternative that is partially biodegradable.

Most plant-based leathers generally contain some amount of plastic to provide support and backing, and Desserto is no exception. However, an early-stage life cycle assessment conducted on Desserto products bring some positives to light:

  • Desserto saves878.26% CED (MJ) compared to animal leather, and 78.96% compared to polyurethane (PU).
  • If incinerated, Desserto saves 1,416.66% Greenhouse Gas Emissions compared to animal leather, and 90.55% compared to polyurethane (PU).
  • Desserto saves164,650% of water compared to animal leather, and 190% compared to polyurethane (PU).
  • Desserto® saves 500% Eutrophication impact compared to animal leather, and 100% compared to polyurethane (PU).

Is Cactus Leather Being Used Today?

Cactus leather is an innovative material that can replace many other types of leather and leather-like fabrics such as suede in the market. It has a smooth texture, sturdy performance and it’s perfect for handbags, accessories footwear even car seats! This durable fabric doesn't get dirty easily because they are also resistant to abrasion which means you'll have no worries when carrying your bag around town all day long with everything sticking out from every angle imaginable - just make sure not to carry anything sharp since these types will stretch if there's pressure put onto them often enough (think: pocket knife).

Several brands (both vegan and non-vegan) have started using cactus leather in their fashion lines. Some of the most notable ones are,

  • Fossil, which has for years been known for its leather products has recently transitioned into using cactus leather to develop a range of vegan products. As a part of a new commitment to be more eco-friendly, they have made a range of plant-based, vegan leathers, wallets, and handbags.
  • Clae is another fashion brand that has turned to use cactus-based vegan leather for its products. They have developed a 100% organic and sustainable sneaker in collaboration with Desserto.
  • H&M, a brand that is constantly criticized for its lack of eco-consciousness, has also turned to make some footwear from 100% Desserto cactus leather.

As consumers start to become more conscious of what they consume, cactus leather can become more and more mainstream, and other famous brands may start to adopt it. While cactus leather is not a perfect solution, it is a definite upgrade from the plastic leather industry which under the guise of vegan products sells a completely greenwashed product.