BY VALENTINA HERNÁNDEZ
As we have previously discussed in our articles, we conceive sustainability not solely as a concept related to the environmental impact of our actions, but also as a movement that takes the ethical and human factors into account.
In this article, we will be exploring both sides of these issues concerning the production and processing of traditional leather and how cactus leather is a new, friendlier, and equally fashionable alternative.
On the side of ethical concerns, it is well-known that leather comes from animals. Their skin is processed and treated — oftentimes dyed to give it a specific color or finished look. The leather industry has a high environmental impact, especially in poor countries where many people depend on the production and processing of this material. Most raw leather comes from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
These production chains share some sustainability problems with the meat industry. It has been studied and proved how extensive rearing of livestock emits high quantities of greenhouse gases — it also impacts deforestation, and water and land overuse.
It is as well important to point out that the most toxic phase of the process is tanning. At this stage, they employ a lot of chemicals such as chromium, which end up contaminating water sources.
The debate around whether it is acceptable to buy or own leather products has been going for a long time. It has increased since vegan activists have started to raise awareness around it. It seems like most fashion brands were deaf to these claims for change.
But not all fashion companies assumed the same attitude. A Mexican brand called Desserto came up with a leather replacement that didn’t involve plastic-derived materials so that the final product would be vegan and environmentally friendly. They used leaves from a cactus species: the Nopal.
Marte Cázarez and Adrian López Velarde are the minds behind Desserto. Their leather, in addition to everything else — organic, biodegradable, and high quality, reminded us of how the discussion around sustainability in fashion often forgets its roots, its most important starting point: raw materials.
After thorough investigation, they felt they could be doing so much more to combat plastic pollution, which adds to the climate crisis we are currently trying to battle. This cactus leather was first showcased in the International Leather Fair Lineapelle 2019 where it was a complete success and became a new favorite for luxury fashion.
They spoke to Fashion United about how their geographical context made them more interested in cactuses, since they are commonly grown in Mexico and don't require considerable amounts of water — as opposed to cotton crops. They spent two years trying to develop this material and they plan to sell it to small and medium fashion brands and designers.
However, their biggest challenge is to make it accessible, from an economic perspective.
Desserto’s actions and values are proof of how consumers and activists have an important role in pushing brands towards making real efforts — in changing the way the industry works.
Their company is still interested in furthering their search for innovation and sustainability.
We can't wait to see how this new material evolves and gets included in our favorite fashion items, such as purses or shoes. Desserto’s new vegan leather is another much-needed development that keeps us hopeful for the future of the fashion industry.