Plant based cactus and pineapple leather

A collection of climate stories mostly

Andrew Howells


I was recently reminded by my daughter, that an alternative plant-based leather is now being made from cactus.

What a positive, climate friendly story.

The thought of being able to harvest buttery soft leather from prickly pear or Nopal cactus, if you prefer, in Mexico where it’s indigenous, thriving without irrigation, fertilisers or pesticides, ticks every possible environmental sustainability box going I expect?

It’s been causing a bit of a ruckus in the environmentally conscious part of the fashion industry, because its breathable, hard wearing and has aesthetic animal leather appeal.

Prickly pear is a perennial which lives for up to 8 years. The farmers only harvest the older leaves and it takes three of them to make a metre of cactus leather. Younger leaves are left to grow through to maturity.

Once harvested, the leaves are washed, mashed and left out to dry for three days, using nothing more complicated than the hot Mexican sun.

The patented cactus leather is manufactured under the brand name Desserto, whose web site reinforces the benefits of using a plant-based leather alternative. There is little detail about what is mixed with the dried out and then ground cactus pudding, aside from a collective term of non-toxic chemicals.

A 2021 report by FILK Freiberg Institute, an independent research company which specialises in testing materials is a little more diagnostic. It discovered that Desserto mostly contains polyurethane or PU. This is a typical additive for plant-based leather which improves durability and flexibility. It also means that the leather is not biodegradable and complicates the claim that it’s a genuine green alternative to leather.

The fashion industry is very keen to experiment with faux leather alternatives. The Material Innovation Initiative, a think tank focused on environmentally preferable and animal-free materials reports that 67 of the 95 next-generation material companies that they track are in the alternative leather space.

Desserto is in demand and has already been used by H&M, Fossil, Adidas and Givenchy, as well as BMW and…