Mexicans create the first vegan leather using nopal
Adrián López and Marte Cázarez developed Desserto - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Mexicans create the first vegan leather using nopal

26/11/2019
14:41
Mexico City
Iván Cruz
-A +A
Adrián López and Marte Cázarez developed Desserto, a synthetic cactus leather to reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry

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Adrián López and Marte Cázares met one night outside a bar in China thanks to some of their friends in Taiwan. For them, it was a nice surprise to find another Mexican in those faraway lands.

Adrián studied Politics and Economy and worked in a furniture company. Marte studied International Businesses and was focused in the fashion environment.

Now, eight years later, they are partners of their own company and developed a synthetic leather made with nopal called Cactus Leather. With this idea, they want to change the Mexican textile industry.

These 26-years-old men are similar in many aspects: They were born the same day of the same year; both of them lived in Taiwan, studied majors related to economy, and have a particular interest in innovation and taking care of the environment.

Their proposal wants to reduce animal deaths due to the sale of leather as well as to save water in the textile industry.

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“We agree that all industries that work with synthetic leathers, such as the automotive, the furniture, and the fashion industry, face a very serious problem with the environmental impact left by their products,” says Adrián.

All these similarities, added to their ideas and knowledge, turn them into a winning team. Little by little, they have attracted the attention of designers interested in working with them.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de DESSERTO (@desserto.pelle) el

However, they point out that leathers made with vegetable material are not something new in fashion, but theirs is the first in the world made with nopal and completely Mexican.

Adrián and Marte have participated in fairs and exhibitions in Italy, Australia, and Slovenia. Among the presentations they have done, the one they consider the most important is the 2019 Lineapelle Fair that took place in Milan, Italy from October 2 to 4. There, they had a stand in which they showed their products, such as purses, backpacks, and wallets.

“This material was really well received, not only in the fashion industry but also in the automotive and the aeronautic industry. A speaker even said that our material was suitable for luxury brands,” asserts Adrián.

In this sense, studies of the World Bank calculate that 20% of all water pollution is caused by the textile treatment and coloring processes. They expect this figure to increase at the same rate the clothing demand does due to overpopulation on the planet.

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National symbol
Adrián and Marte consider that nopal is perhaps the most emblematic plant in Mexico because, in addition to its characteristics, it allows other entrepreneurs to develop more sustainable projects.

“We feel very proud because we use one of the symbols in our flag, nopal. By launching this leather we are promoting something characteristic of our country,” says Marte Cázares.

Nopal is present in Mexican cuisine since pre-Colonial times. Several anthropological studies place the consumption of this plant between 7,500 and 5,000 years before our age.

Millennia later, with the settling of Mesoamerican cultures, especially in the Valley of Mexico, nopal had a greater cultural relevance for being an essential element in the foundational myth of the Mexica city of Tenochtitlán, which is represented in the national emblem.

For these young men, it has a special meaning because, on their way through different countries, “everyone recognizes it as part of our identity; they see a nopal and say ‘Oh, Mexico!’” says Cázares.

In Mexico, there are 164 of the 377 Opuntia cacti species, gender to which nopal belongs, according to information of Mexico City’s Natural Resources and Rural Development Commission (Conar).

Mexico is one of the top world exporters of nopal suitable for human consumption with a production of over 812,000 thousand in 2018, according to estimations of the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry.

In addition to innovation, the creators of Desserto, the commercial name of their invention, comment that its elaboration generates works in Guadalajara, city where the leather is produced.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de DESSERTO (@desserto.pelle) el

“Nearly 50 persons benefit indirectly here in Mexico and we hope to create more; as long as this material is produced on a bigger scale, we will be able to help to the growth of the local economy,” wishes Adrián.

Harvesting nopal is a high-risk activity for producers because of the fluctuation of consumer prices. Columba Jazmín López, head of Conar in Mexico City, points out that although there are continuous crops, there was a recession in the Mexican capital and almost half of the hectares were lost.

“It is actually in Milpa Alta where people harvest nopal; there are 2,630 planted hectares; eight years ago, there were 4,331 registered. The land was lost due to environmental issues and irregular settlements in planting areas.” The officer considers that projects like Desserto help to recognize the work in the field and increase the consumption of this plant.

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On the verge of bankruptcy
The creation of nopal leather did not happen overnight. It is a project that took two years to complete. Adrián says they sacrificed the stability they had in China to come back to Mexico and begin the research:

“The most complicated part was to abandon our jobs to focus on this dream. Obviously, our friends and close people advised us not to do it because of the risk.”

Since they are not scientists, they had the support of a group of experts to carry out the tests of the material. The objective was to obtain a more resistant, flexible, and breathable leather.

“It was very hard to fo the research work and to obtain bonds between the molecules of the organic chemical material and the synthetic one. We had to submerge, even, in nanotechnology matters to reach our goal,” adds López Velarde.

Marte Cázares explains that financing Desserto left them on the verge of bankruptcy: “We were very optimistic in our project. We looked for the way to maximize our resources and to avoid unnecessary expenses. We had to ask our friends for loans to keep working.”

When they got the final material, they did not know for sure how to promote this nopal leather: “Our first question was ‘How are we going to launch it?’ In Mexico, we are not very involved in ecologic matters as markets in other continents.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Una publicación compartida de DESSERTO (@desserto.pelle) el

Thus, they created the firm Adriano Di Marte to break into the industry and contacted designers to present them Desserto.

They say that their visit to Australia was more successful than expected because some touristic companies in that country have already made orders to use the nopal leather in hot-air-balloons baskets, a market they had not considered.

“This material has moved around the world; after the reception it had in Lineapelle we are already collaborating with global scale groups so that they can include it in their next collections,” conclude Adrián and Marte.

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