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Cactus Leather - more prick but less harm to animals

Environmental Impact


The world is crazy about going green these days. From switching to organic food to minimizing plastic waste, we all contribute to helping to make an environmental impact. This undeniable desire to become environmentally conscious is being embraced in the fashion world as well, and with unique style, I must add.



From using recyclable shopping bags to switching to thrift products, Sustainable clothing materials are making a major splash. One such sustainable fashion trend gaining hype nowadays is vegan leather. In this post, we will be debating over the newest most intriguing participants making an environmental impact in the category of vegan leathers – cactus leather. So, let’s get started!



What is Cactus Leather?



First and foremost, you must acknowledge that there are two types of leather: real leather (which harms animals) and faux or vegan leather. We are all aware that real leather is made from the skin of a deceased animal. Calfskin is commonly used; however, some leathers are made of skins from an abundance of ostriches, lambs, buffalos, deer and other animals. Now, killing and obtaining resources from these creatures negatively affects biodiversity.



Vegan leather is a substitute for animal-based leather and is a feasible option. They come in two types: natural vegan leather and synthetic vegan leather. Cactus leather is tough and belongs to the category of natural vegan leather. It is made from leaves of the Nopal cactus plant, also known as, the prickly pear cactus, a spiky, flat-stemmed nopal cactus that grows primarily in hot, arid atmosphere. This plant, which originated in Mexico, has now spread across the globe, making the nopal cactus a valuable resource.



People consider the idea of cactus as leather absurd because, well, a cactus is a tough, rigid, thick, and pointed plant. However, it becomes velvety, sturdy, and of great quality and feels like genuine leather when properly treated.



Is Cactus Leather Vegan?



By definition, vegan leather includes all those leather materials that do not involve animal abuse. Now because of the abundance of plastic-based vegan leathers in the market being sold, several industrialists have turned to alternate raw materials in recent years to develop products. Entrepreneurs and scientists have created leather from various organic materials, including cork, walnut, mushroom, algae and pineapples. 



This type of leather is natural, sustainable, and easy-to-grow alternative and can completely replace traditional leather. Not only is it derived from a renewable resource, the nopal cactus plant aka prickly pear cactus, but it is also eco-friendly in the sense that it requires very little water to grow.



What is in Cactus Leather?



Now that we know the origins of prickly pear cactus leather, it is time to discuss how it is made. The inventors are Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez, have spilled the tea on how they manufacture products made from nopal cactus (or prickly pear cactus).  They called their company Desserto, and they have revolutionized the fashion industries.



They grow and sell Desserto products from their home-grown plant based natural species with rainwater and no artificial fertilizers in the nutrient-rich soil of Zacatecas, Mexico  (Desserto company may have got their inspiration from Stella Mccartney). The workers harvest the fully grown leaves without damaging the structure of the plant. A new harvest is created every six to eight months since the leaves take this much time to mature.



The greatest prickly pear leaves are chosen for their toughness and resilience. The leaves can withstand low temperatures during the winter months because of their innate ability to withstand harsh temperatures. The fact that cactus is a perennial plantation is one of the best aspects of using it as a raw material. This means that each crop has an 8-year cycle.



The leaves are sun-dried for a few days after harvesting to attain the proper humidity levels. Following the drying of the leaves, the next step in the manufacturing process is to shape the leather into various items. It is blended with various non-toxic compounds to make it more resistant to corrosion and prevent it. The outcome is cactus leather, a partially biodegradable vegan and organic leather substitute.



Is Cactus Leather Real Leather?



No! It is an alternative to real leather, rather than a type of animal-based leather. As mentioned earlier, leather derived from the Nopal plant belongs to the vegan category. In contrast, real leather is a broad term and includes various types of leathers such as sheepskin leather, kidskin leather, salmon leather and deerskin leather all which goes through a tanning process before becoming the end product. Moreover, it has several distinctions from real leather, like using cactus leaves as a raw material instead of animal hides, not using chromium in tannery process, and being more environmentally friendly.



Is Cactus Leather really environmental-friendly?



There is a common misconception that all vegan leathers are environmentally friendly. While all-vegan leathers are devoid of animal cruelty and have a substantial advantage over traditional leather (where animals survive much longer), cactus leather’s environmental benefits are far greater.



To begin with, faux or vegan leather is made from various materials, not all of which are environmentally friendly. A bulk of vegan leather is made of plastic, for instance, PU leather, implying that these products impact the environment as real animal-skin leather does. Plant-based leather-like grape leather are also environmentally friendly and make a positive difference, while synthetic pu leather isn’t.



Moreover, cactus leather is also partially biodegradable, which is not the case with plastic, which typically ends up in a landfill in Malaysia or China after only a few years of use. This also implies that it is more durable than synthetic vegan leather; it has a minimum life of ten years.



Furthermore, this type of vegan leather is also more eco-friendly than real animal-skin leather.  Firstly, animal-skin leather is treated with chromium in the tanning process.  Chromium is a highly toxic substance that is a major pollutant in the environment. Cactus leather is developed or manufactured naturally, without involving hazardous chemicals that pollute water systems. It’s also common knowledge that raising cows contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere; however, cactus leather eliminates this worry entirely.



How Expensive is Cactus Leather?



The cost is slightly more expensive than that of animal leather but without the dead animal (an animal whose focus like ours is staying alive). Since most people are unaware of cactus leather, the demand for real leather is high, and the low cost/wear ratio makes it less expensive.



Since this vegan alternative is now in the development stages, it stands on the pricier end due to research and development costs. However, according to experts, once it is mass-produced, in time you’ll watch the price becoming more and more reasonable, signifying fashion at the lowest cost in a sustainable manner. The takeaway is that cactus leather is a more reasonable, safer and sustainable purchase than even a real leather handbag.



Benefits of Switching to Cactus Leather



There are pros and drawbacks, as with any other type of leather. The benefits, however, outweigh the drawbacks. Here are some arguments on why cactus leather as a raw material is a superior alternative to real and synthetic vegan leather:



1- Good Quality



Cactus leather has a smooth and velvety texture, more like any premium quality animal leather you would find at a brand. Moreover, this natural vegan leather is one of the most durable faux leathers in the market, which is necessary to make the product capable of competing in a market featuring plenty of animal leather and faux leathers.



2- Breathability



Breathability is a desirable characteristic of clothing materials. Leather’s ability to wick moisture is crucial to get rid of sweat and bacteria. A major drawback of synthetic leathers is their lack of air circulation. Cactus leather’s skin is porous, allowing it to mimic real leather but with non toxic chemicals.  It also mimics it in terms of moisture-wicking and breathability rather than plastic leathers.



3- Waterproof



When it comes to animal leather materials, when water hits it; it is quite damaging. When water absorbs into leather, it causes the substance to lose its oil, making it brittle and prone to cracking. Cactus leather, however, is water-resistant and can keep its quality for a long time with just minor wear and tear, making it a great alternative to animal leather accessories.



4- Various Design Options



Cactus material formed into a leather can practically be used for anything that traditional leather or faux leather can. This natural sustainable material is flexible and can be moulded into any shape. Because the finished product is more sustainable and has a lower carbon footprint than other leather alternatives, cactus leather may be used to make textile garments (jackets, shoes, purses, and belts), accessories, furniture, and even automotive interiors.


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