There are so many fashion brands on the market making gorgeous vegan leather goods that are totally animal-free — but most of those brands use plastic-derived materials to achieve the look. However, a new brand out of Mexico called Desserto is shaking things up by turning nopal cactus leaves into organic, all-natural, cruelty-free leather. Desserto is the first cactus-based leather on the market, and the material has the potential to make the vegan leather industry much more sustainable.

Desserto’s cactus leather is organic, partially biodegradable, soft, durable, and high enough quality that it can be used to make clothing, accessories, furniture, and even car interiors. “After two years of research and development, we managed to produce a suitable material that complies with the features and technical/mechanical specifications required by those industries that use animal or synthetic leather,” co-founder and vice president Adrián López Velarde told Fashion United in an interview.

López Velarde and Cázarez came up with the idea for Desserto after learning about the plastic pollution crisis. As explained by Fashion United, the two innovators were intrigued by the nopal cactus because it grows in abundance throughout Mexico and does not require any water to grow. They spent the past two years doing research and development, and finally figured out how to turn nopal cactus leaves into the perfect cactus-based leather.

Most vegan leather goods are made from plastic, either PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane), which both contain toxic chemicals, phthalates, and traces of bisphenol A. These items are not biodegradable, and often end up in landfills when they are no longer wearable.

Most vegan leather is made using polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane, both of which are plastic-based materials (hence the popular, albeit maybe dated, portmanteau “pleather,” which originally stood for “plastic leather”). And while we’re well aware of our planet’s plastic problem, “pleather” is still the more sustainable and ethical option when it comes to handbags, belts, wallets, shoes, and anything else you’d typically find using leather. Vegan leather should be seen as more than an “alternative” — it should be embraced for the high quality product it can create.

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