What Is Desserto Cactus Leather And Is It Sustainable?

Vegan leather has garnered popularity in the fashion industry in recent years. Many consumers are choosing animal-free leather alternatives for ethical and financial reasons, but is it possible that vegan leathers are actually more sustainable? We’re breaking down the latest in vegan leather, which comes from Desserto, a product created by co-founders Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez.

What Exactly is Desserto Cactus Leather?

Cactus leather, like what is used in Desserto products, are leather-like fabrics similar to animal leathers in both texture and aesthetic presentation. Desserto uses the nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear, in their fabrics.

The nopal cactus grows abundantly in areas of Mexico where it is harvested to produce natural leathers. Desserto harvests only mature nopal leaves every six to eight months. The leaves are processed first by drying in the sun for three days. Once dry, the leaves are then processed in a laboratory setting where plant fibers are separated from naturally occurring proteins. 

Protein extracts are then combined with plant oils and non-toxic polymers to create durable leather-like fabrics. Each batch is crafted carefully and tailored depending on which products are being created, from wallets and shoes to handbags and footwear.

Desserto, while undoubtedly innovative, begs the question, is this a sustainable animal-free production process?


Animal leathers are usually water-intensive to produce. Circumfauna specializes in research and data regarding animal-based industries. According to them, 2.5 pounds of leather requires upwards of 17,000 liters from start to finish. This number varies depending on which leather goods are being produced. 

It’s apparent that animal leathers demand significant water resources. What makes Desserto leather appealing from an environmental standpoint is the dramatic reduction of water demand required to create their products.

Cacti are naturally drought-resistant, and retain water within their stems. Thus, they require no irrigation or regular watering. Reports from data house Simreka stated that leather produced from cows required 32.95 cubic meters of water for one cubic meter of fabric. Desserto ranked in at an impressive 0.02 cubic meters of water required to produce a meter of fabric.


One plantation of nopal cactus can be harvested repeatedly for around eight years. The nopal cactus has been found to store carbon underground, providing a carbon sequestration system. Desserto says that its 14 acres of farmland in Zacatecas, Mexico, absorbs 8,100 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Compared to animal-processed leather, which contributes to roughly 73 to 110 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted per square meter-leather made from nopal may soon prove to be carbon neutral. 


The nopal cactus is native to Mexico, so it grows abundantly with naturally occurring conditions. Thus, the cactus is grown without irrigation, fertilizers, or pesticides, which greatly reduces the environmental burden of processing them for leather. 

Over 130 chemicals, many of them toxic to human health and the environment are found in tanneries that produce animal leather products. Desserto was found to contain five concerning additives when a third-party tested by FILK Freiburg Institute. Such additives include toluene, commonly found in glues, and folpet, an organic pesticide. 

Is it Sustainable?

All things considered, Desserto cactus leather is a much more sustainable venture compared to animal-based leather operations. The nopal cactus is gentle on resources, is native to Mexico where it is harvested, and is proving to be a versatile and durable fabric compound. Both stylish and reasonably sustainable, Desserto can be labeled as a flawed but sustainable alternative to leather.

Key Takeaways
  • Desserto is a vegan leather product derived from the nopal (or prickly pear) cactus.
  • Desserto leather requires significantly less water, land, and chemicals to produce.
  • With room for improvement, specifically with biodegradability, Desserto leather is a sustainable product.