Why it matters that cactus leather doesn't require killing the plant, plus other leather variants

Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
  • Desserto cactus leather was created to offer a sustainable alternative to traditional leather.
  • This certified organic vegan leather can be shaped into jackets, purses and even car seats.
  • Other types of vegan leather include mushroom, pineapple, cork, leaf, paper, bark and apple leather.

An eco-friendly vegan leather made from cactus is taking the fashion industry by storm. The Desserto cactus leather is a highly sustainable and certified organic material that can be shaped into jackets, purses, car seats and more.

According to LADbible, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez from Mexico created this vegan leather to offer a sustainable, animal-friendly alternative to traditional leather.

Creating this plant leather doesn't require killing the plant. Metro UK reports the leather is made from mature leaves that are trimmed from the cactus species Opuntia ficus-indica, aka the prickly pear.

The plant can then remain and continue to grow without being endangered for fashion's sake.

The Desserto website notes: "The aim is to offer cruelty free, sustainable alternative, without any toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC."

For decades synthetic leather alternatives have been available as plastic-based materials, but this has not always been the most ideal solution. Increasingly over the years, variants of vegan leather seen as more environmentally friendly and animal cruelty free have been explored, and now cactus leather can be added to the list.

Another vegan leather that has been significantly explored is cork leather.

According to African Leather and Skins, cork leather is one of the best vegan and eco-friendly fabrics and has similar durability and feel to leather because of its water-resistant properties.

READ MORE | The Amal bag, The Blake sandal - celebrities who've had designer accessories named after them

Other types of vegan leather such as paper leather are available in the market. But, will there ever be a time where animal leather can be completely replaced by vegan leather?

"We think the advent of mushroom, pineapple, leaf, paper, bark and apple leathers, to name just a few, which often use waste, tend to employ non-toxic methods of colouring, are hard wearing and trendy, also environmentally and animal friendly, is incredibly exciting and certainly should be the future materials of choice," says Toni Brockhoven, chairperson of Beauty Without Cruelty SA, about vegan leather.

READ MORE | There's more to becoming vegan than simply throwing all the animal products in your fridge away

Nerisha Jairaj, executive director of the South Africa Footwear and Leather Export Council, says it is not possible to get everyone to stop using animal leather, but there may be more sustainable ways of manufacturing it.

She said in South Africa most people prefer animal leather, but they often resort to other alternatives because of the costs.

In terms of the sustainability of manufacturing leather, she says improvements are being made.

READ MORE | Fashion that's both political and sustainable

"There are ethical regulations for such things. There may be a reduction of purchases but leather goods will not cease to exist.

"There are a whole lot of developments worldwide to create leather out of paper, to create leather out of cork, to create leather out of tree bark so people [are] at it. They are looking to it but our actual bovine [cow] leather will not be succeeded by it," says Nerisha.

She says: "The meat is used for our consumption and we don't waste the leather thereafter, so it can go into footwear and handbags."

READ MORE: Everybody's wearing leather pants! Here's where to shop your own pair

Toni says the position of Beauty Without Cruelty is that "animals suffer and die needlessly for decor, trinkets, trims, bags, coats and footwear".

From the environmental and animal cruelty free perspective, Toni says leather production is damaging on both fronts.

"There is no such thing as humane leathers or skins, and the 'finer' the product usually the greater the inherent animal cruelty. As far as the environment goes, with leather, there's the issue of the carbon footprint of cattle rearing and with the recent climate change revelations, this is an added incentive to move towards plant-based materials," says Toni.

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