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Leather is a tale as old as time: It is part of a booming $80 billion industry, making it one of the most traded products with serious moral legitimacy issues. Problematic for its cruel use of animals and harsh chemicals that severely harm the environment, this past decade has prompted a collective need to lead ethical lives in light of the Space Age.
Two entrepreneurs from Mexico are paving the way for this to become a reality. They have found a leather alternative that is not only eco-friendly but has the look and feel of real leather, and their product could save millions of animals worldwide if or when it becomes widely available. What is this magic product, you ask? It is cactus.
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Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez are the men behind this innovative leather, and while you might think it is impossible, their product made out of the nopal cactus looks and feels exactly like the real thing.
The duo was in the industry which now they are trying to change
Here is how the story goes: The two entrepreneurs were workers in the fashion and automotive furniture industries, which made them realize just how much pollution and environmental destruction their industries were responsible for. Once they accepted this as a serious problem, the only thing they needed to do was to find a way to solve it.
They left their jobs and dedicated two years to brainstorming and coming up with new and sustainable solutions. Finally, in July 2019, their marketable cactus leather was created and launched in Milan, Italy to the fashion world, providing a new future for fashion.
A new fabric using cactus leaves
Their cactus vegan leather is called "Desserto" and is made from cacti grown on their plantation in the Mexican state of the Zacatecas. This type of cactus is famous for its rugged, thick skin, which is why it is so similar to animal leather as a feel.
They don’t use toxic chemicals, phthalates, or PVC in their design, and it is highly sustainable while offering a large variety of colors, thicknesses, and textures.
López Velarde told FashionUnited, "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."
This new leather could be a game-changer
Widespread use of their cruelty-free leather could be a game-changer since use of animal skin has dire consequences for our environment.
For example, tanners treat animal-based leather with 250 different substances, including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, and chromium. Once these substances enter waterways, they pollute oceans, endanger marine life, and raise the risk of disease for people.
Also, raising livestock for food and for their skins generates large amounts of emissions, making up 14.5 percent of all anthropologic greenhouse gas emissions.
Water usage is a huge problem too, so the fact that companies that incorporate cruelty-free leather into their products could lower water consumption by 20 percent is of high importance. "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," López Velarde says.
Here is how the magic happens
We're sure you must be curious about how the magic happens. Here is how: First, they find and cut mature leaves of the cacti, clean, mash, and dry it under the sun for three days. After that, the product is processed so that it can be used as a material for vegan leather.
In the end, they achieve a product that is elastic, breathable, and highly customizable. Anything animal leather can do, this plant-based leather can do better. Moreover, the cactus leather is on par with genuine leather on the pricing front. What else can you ask?
The duo has successfully fabricated car seats, bags, shoes, and apparel using their patented leather, and this innovative take on a much-debated issue is such a fresh breath of air.
More and more companies are joining the cruelty-free fronts
These two genius entrepreneurs aside, we are happy to report that more and more companies are on the way to craft cruelty-free leather. Some examples include footwear brand No Saints, which turns food waste into vegan leather sneakers by using a plant-based leather made from pineapple leaf fibers.
The automotive industry is changing too, with Porsche's new Taycan electric car having the option to be ordered with a vegan leather interior and Elon Musk saying they are working on eliminating the use of animal leather in the cars. Hopefully, we will start to see such things become available worldwide soon and animals won't have to endure the horrors of the leather industry.