Creating a Sustainable Leather Alternative out of Cactus
How does the world solve for sustainable leather? We speak with Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, founders of Desserto, about their innovative leather-alternative startup.
While working in the fashion and automotive industries—major contributors to “negative environmental and social impacts”—Adrián and Marte recognized the world’s need for nature-derived leather alternatives. Marte says, “We knew from the inside of these industries that there was a genuine interest, but there wasn’t a viable solution out there.” They tell us their initial goal was to, “make a material that does not use any animal content and any toxic chemical content.”
Their solution? Leather derived from cactuses. As Mexico’s most abundant plant with quick-rate biomass growth and requiring little irrigation, the two entrepreneurs had an inkling this could be a new way forward. After a year and a half of trial-and-error laboratory tests incorporating numerous scientific disciplines, they cracked the code.
Asked about their cactus inspiration, Adrian cites existing widespread usage of the plant throughout other sectors in Mexico. Moreover, when stacked up against other natural alternatives, Marte points to their lack of scalability, affordability, and quality standards. They hoped to find an alternative to solve these issues. He tells us, “We quit our jobs to focus on building a solution that could be better than alternatives out there at the moment being used in mass production, and to start from there to be better.”
Their first consideration, of course, was what their selected plant’s environmental impact would be. The entrepreneurs sought out farms growing other crops, but with empty, uncultivated land available for use. At these farms, Desserto provides necessary technology and guidance before certifying them for organic cactus growth. With this method, the farms “benefit economically but also innovation-wise.”
They also use only cactuses that are "native and typical" to their region and are grown organically - without any harmful chemicals. Crucially, Desserto’s method is to only harvest mature leaves from the plant rather than the whole plant itself. This way living, healthy plants remain rooted in place, thus benefitting the local ecosystem.