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Did you hear about Desserto– a cactus-based leather alternative yet?

Sustainable fashion is the new black and it is here to stay. With fashion being the second largest polluter and the trillion-dollar industry further poised to grow at a solid rate, it becomes more important than ever for consumers as well as brands to consciously choose sustainability. However, defining what is sustainable in reality and actually making that sustainable choice is neither the new black nor the new white. There are many greys to maneuver. The road towards better understanding within this emerging space is paved with conscious conversations and discussions, which is also rightfully what binds our Beej community together.

Desserto is a new-age material designed and created with sustainability at its core. Since its launch in 2019, it has made its mark in the fashion industry and on us too. As we delve into more details of Desserto, we will take you through our little experiment with this intriguing medium that we are sure has already kindled your curiosity too!


The Material – The what and the how

Desserto is an extremely interesting cruelty-free, plant-based material that comes from Nopal (a cactus). This brain-child of Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez from Mexico is a result of two years of dedicated research and work by these former employees of the automobile and the fashion industries, respectively, where animal leather is pretty much a staple. Desserto is posed to be a much kinder and effective alternative to both animal leather and faux leather and it is soft, breathable, luxurious and highly durable. The various prestigious awards won by the material, including Green Product Award and Good Design Award, show great promise.

The production method of this material brings together intuitive processes with technological innovation. The matured cactus leaves are first cut, they are then mashed, dried in the sun (no additional energy is used), processed through their patented method using non-toxic chemicals, and then made into specific shapes and colours for use.  What takes shape is a futuristic, versatile material that holds a lot of potential in the context of sustainability as well as design.


The environmental impact-

The making of conventional animal leather, as well as faux leather, entails a host of notoriously toxic chemicals and the releasing of heavy metals into waterways. Desserto contends with not just the heavily polluting aspects of conventional leather but the resource-draining processes as well. 

Here’s how-

  • The cactus for the material grows on natural rainfall and no irrigation systems or pesticides are used. This compares to the gallons of water that is used in rearing animals and in tanneries. 

  • Only the matured leaves of the cactus are used for production and the same plants continue to provide harvest every 6-8 months. Each plantation lasts 8 years.

  • Their patented formula for the material does not involve phthalates, PVC or any toxic chemicals.

  • Desserto’s cactus farms work to preserve biodiversity and no trees are cut to make space for farming. On the contrary, native plants are planted to enrich the soil.

  • Thanks to its great CO2 sequestering property, cactus helps by absorbing tonnes of the greenhouse gas from the environment. This makes Desserto’s farms carbon negative.


Do we love it, or love it not?

The material has been designed for use in fashion, accessories, furniture and automobiles like a true alternative to leather. In fact, Desserto sounds like evolution and not an alternative in terms of its performance. The material has elasticity, responds well to water and humidity, unlike animal leather,  feels amazing to touch and is customizable.

However, it does have its cons just like any other material does. While the material itself is biodegradable, it comes with knit-cotton and polyester lining and the latter makes the final product only partially biodegradable. The material and the lining have to be separated during disposal to process the non-biodegradable part separately. Further, with the material being produced in Mexico, shipping it to design houses in India comes with the additional carbon footprint due to transportation. The former issue is a design challenge that the company is working on. Their commitment to sustainability is evident in their constant investment in research, facilitating newer versions such as the 100% cotton-backed Desserto Biocactus range to take shape. In the long run, the longevity of products made with Desserto might even be able to offset some of the carbon footprints of shipping, thanks to the material’s resistance to abrasion and its proposed durability (something that we are testing at our studio), although this would also depend on the post purchase care.

We discovered Desserto while we were hunting for plant-based leather alternatives. What immediately caught our eye was its low carbon footprint and its  versatility. The material was successfully showcased in October of 2019 in Milan, Italy. Since then, Desserto has been the recipient of several awards such as Green Product Award, Material ConneXion Seal of Material Excellence and Monte-Carlo Fashion Week Sustainability Award. They have also been the finalist for LVMH Innovation Award 2020. We are the first brand to bring this new-age leather alternative to India.

We think that Desserto is not just sustainably fashionable but also fashionably sustainable. As we continue experimenting with it, we are exploring ways to maximize its strengths, test its durability and work around the few challenges that it poses without compromising on quality. But, the one thing that we can say for sure is that Desserto and the products we made from it don’t disappoint. In fact, we see the products as conversation starters, style statements and utility accessories that perform beautifully.

Simply put, the cactus is trying to make friends with us, it is promising to help us tread lightly on the planet and it looks mighty honest, we must say! Should we extend a hand of friendship back to Desserto? Affirmato! 

Written by Shravya Indukuri

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