esserto founders Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez first showcased their vegan leather in 2019 in Milan. Built from the leaves of nopal (prickly pear) cactus grown on an organic ranch in the state of Zacatecas in the founders’ native Mexico, the vegan leather is designed to be as durable and aesthetically pleasing as cowhide leather. The founders designed Desserto to have the same functional properties as regular leather.
“Although animal leather is very resistant it is permeable and can even rot or crack if not dried quickly after it gets wet. Desserto has competitive features handling humidity and liquids very well, it’s fully customizable and breathable.” The product is also low-maintenance and easy to clean, only requiring brushing with a dry cloth.
Velarde and Cázarez previously worked in the automotive, furniture, and fashion industries and saw firsthand how much of a problem environmental pollution was. In response, the two of them went into business together to develop this leather alternative that works for shoes, gloves, handbags, and car interiors and seats. They’ve created two kinds of material: Desserto, for consumer products and apparel, and Deserttex, which can be used for industrial purposes anywhere in place of leather. Deserttex is soft, springy and handles well, much like regular leather.
The cactus they use is quite sustainable. It’s hardy enough to withstand winter cold and does not need to be watered or fertilized. It grows amidst the native flora and fauna of the area, and they did not need to cut down any trees to set up a prickly pear farm. They harvest the mature leaves without damaging the plants, so there is a new harvest every 6-8 months. The leaves are soft and have only very small stickers and so are easier to harvest. And they dry the leaves with renewable energy, leaving them out for three days under the sun.
Faux-leather products already exist, but those are made of plastic, which is not biodegradable, also involves toxic chemicals, and doesn’t ‘breathe’ against your skin the way cowhide leather, or Desserto, does.
Some people wonder why leather production poses environmental problems, because the industry simply makes use of the skins of cows already being killed for meat. But the tanning process involves toxic chemicals such as chromium that can become toxic runoff. Desserto’s leather does not require any toxic chemicals for its production.
Many acres of land in the Amazon rainforest are being cut down to become cattle ranches, and effluent from leather production has polluted India’s Ganges River. In contrast, Desserto’s prickly pear cactus leather plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere and enrich the soil.
Velarde and Cázarez have received coverage for their elegantly sustainable material in Forbes, Vogue, The Economist, The Guardian, Veg News, and other publications. They were recognized by Architectural Digest and PETA, and won the Good Design Award and the Green Product Award for 2020. Their team has expanded to at least the crew of ten featured on their website, and their future seems to be bright.