CDMX - With the purpose of creating an alternative to animal leather, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, both hailing from Mexico, developed vegan leather made with nopal (a cactus), which they successfully showcased in the last edition of the International Leather Fair Lineapelle 2019, which took place in October in Milan, Italy.
The entrepreneurs’ aim was to create a cruelty free, sustainable alternative, without any toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC. The result, Cactus Leather, is partially biodegradable and has the technical specifications required by the fashion, leather goods, furniture and even automotive industries. Thanks to its high resistance and durability of (minimum) 10 years, this organic, sustainable product can replace the use of animal leather and other synthetic materials that are not environmentally friendly.
After two years of research and work, the creators from Guadalajara, Jalisco, and Aguascalientes could finally finish marketable cactus leather in July. Its trade name is Desserto, and it has competitive features compared to animal or synthetic leather, like elasticity and being customizable and breathable.
Nopal leather: from concept to reality
FashionUnited spoke with Adrián López Velarde, VicePresident of Adriano Di Marti, Desserto, who told us the story behind this vegan leather, its features and where this sustainable venture is headed.
How did you think of cactus-based vegan leather?
I had the idea after working first in the furniture and later in the automotive industry and Marte Cázarez in the fashion industry, where we identified that the problem of environmental pollution was serious. As a result, we were genuinely interested in reducing environmental impact, so we decided to leave our jobs and start Adriano Di Marti, a company to focus on developing Desserto, which nowadays is known as cactus or nopal vegan leather.
Why did you choose cactus or nopal as the main raw material?
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. Besides, to be able to incorporate this material to various industries, it is essential to count on a stable, abundant supply of raw material. We currently have 2 hectares where we cultivate nopals, as well as an expansion capacity of 40 hectares. Regarding production capacity, we have 500,000 linear meters a month.
What made you think that nopal could be a good alternative for animal leather?
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; also, thanks to its organic composition, it is breathable, which makes cactus or nopal vegan leather similar to animal leather.
An expert at Lineapelle said that our cactus leather is most appropriate for use in the luxury segment thanks to its flexibility, softness, touch and color
What was your experience at Lineapelle? How was this product received?
The enthusiasm for our Desserto sustainable materials at Lineapelle was overwhelming. We didn’t expect such interest from so many different industries and designers from around the globe. Among so many congratulations and positive comments, it is worth noting that a Lineapelle presenter in the innovation and sustainability forum said that out of all sustainable materials in the fair, ours was the most appropriate for use in luxury brands thanks to its flexibility, softness, touch and color.
At what point in time is your company now?
Our company is already working in big projects with major groups in different industries, and we already have a reaction capacity to make them come to fruition. However, our research and development has not finished yet, because even though our material is already suitable for marketing and is highly sustainable, we understand that innovation is the driving force of every company seeking to ensure its future.
What is cactus leather like? What’s the difference with animal leather?
Desserto is a highly sustainable material, and its environmental footprint is not as big as animal leather. There is no intensive use of water and it is free of phthalates, toxic chemicals and PVC. Also, its flexibility may result in production savings because it boosts the productivity of the production lines using it, and it is also a material offering touch and softness that is very similar to animal leather.
In your opinion, how does the industry view this sustainable leather alternative?
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.
After our launch in Milan, we corroborated that the European market is absolutely ready to incorporate this material into its production lines. And companies in our own region are not staying behind. We have been in close contact with different high-profile companies in neighboring countries, with whom we are working on very interesting projects.
What would be the main challenges you are facing?
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. 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.
What are your recommendations for manufacturers so they can start using this material?
As our material is highly sustainable and cost-competitive, and it complies with required specifications, it is an alternative that offers a win-win scenario. They will not only benefit from developing a high-quality, sustainable range, but they will also have a competitive edge: they will contribute to caring for the environment and they will meet the growing end-consumers’ demand of using environmentally friendly materials.
How much of a positive impact on the environment can it have?
The positive impact on the environment that our materials can have if incorporated into major production lines of the different industries mentioned before may result in a 32 to 42 percent reduction in plastic waste, depending on the version of our materials that is incorporated, and about 20 percent savings in water consumption. Currently, the volume used by the fashion industry alone is huge, almost 79 billion cubic meters, which is enough to fill almost 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. If you assess the value for the world economy of the additional 39 billion cubic meters expected to be used annually by 2030, the result is 32 billion euro at stake yearly. This is the potential benefit for the world economy if the fashion industry can find ways to prevent water consumption from increasing further.
Concerning waste, currently mankind produces 2,100 million tons of waste yearly. In terms of the annual ecological footprint, the world population already produces more than 1.6 what the earth is able to absorb in the same period of time. Considering today’s solid waste during production and at the end of useful life, industry waste will increase by about 60 percent between 2015 and 2030, and 57 million tons of waste will be additionally generated yearly. This raises the overall fashion waste to 148 million tons by 2030, which equals an annual waste of 17.5 kg per capita all over the world.
This is the size of the benefits our innovations can provide on a large scale. This is easier said than done. However, we are convinced that it is by all means possible that change may take place shortly. The fashion industry has inherent advantages such as creativity, its most iconic trait. With the support of technologies and innovations, fashion has the talent, the networks, the financing and all the resources needed for transformation. The time has come to start doing things in a different way.
This story was originally published on FashionUnited.mx before being translated into English
Photo Credit: Adriano Di Marti. Desserto