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As much as I love cacti (and I’m pretty obsessed), I have never looked at a nopal and thought “I could make you into a shoe.” But, I recently learned, that’s why I’m not an award-winning innovator in the field of sustainable textiles, and Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, the founders of Desserto, are. In 2019, Desserto debuted its vegan leather made entirely from plants – no PVC, toxic chemicals, or phthalates in sight – and now shoe brand CLAE is the first to bring that cactus leather to market in the form of a pair of chic, classic sneakers.
Velarde and Cázarez prioritized a small environmental footprint as they developed Desserto. The material is made only from cuttings of mature leaves that can be taken without damaging the cactus itself, and the cacti are allowed to grow naturally on the company’s plot in Zacatecas, Mexico, without being artificially irrigated or otherwise disturbed.
“At the farm, we haven’t cut down any trees – opposite to that, as we plant a native cactus from the region,” the founders write on their website. “Our plantation is fully organic, so there is no harm to the biodiversity. Also, our natural techniques stimulate the micro-flora and micro-fauna in the ground, which is maintained without damage, and wild fauna like hawks find a favorable environment.”
Once collected, the organic nopal leaves are left out to sun-dry, rather than be processed using additional energy or chemicals and, the company claims, the 14-acre cactus farm sequesters an estimated 8,100 tons of carbon dioxide per year while only generating 15.3 tons.
Now the footwear designers at CLAE are putting Desserto’s work in a new line of stylish shoes. CLAE already offered an extensive range of vegan sneakers, constructed from a variety of materials, so creating a cactus leather line was a logical next step.
“Pursuing our commitment to conscious and sustainable fashion, we have been working tirelessly to develop a 100 percent organic and sustainable material that is as surprising as it is innovative,” says a company statement. “In collaboration with Desserto, the 2020 Green Product Award winners and creators of a highly sustainable plant-based vegan leather, we have created the first sneaker made of cactus leather.”
CLAE offers the cactus leather on its chic, unisex Bradley silhouette. To complete the sustainable shoe, the brand pairs the Desserto uppers with natural rubber soles, made of latex harvested from a carbon-neutral heave tree plantation. Even the shoelaces, made of recycled plastic waste, make an eco-friendly statement.