The Nopal Cacti .. Miracle of nature .. A step forward in shoe design

Cactus Leather  .. tell me more.

Hello Cocorosers.

This is one of those lesser spotted Gareth posts!

You are going to hear a great deal from us about plant based leathers. In particular cactus leather, from the nopal Cactus. So please allow me to indulge myself in writing about this amazing material.

The idea or the ability to make a material from cactus has been around for while now. Timelines seem to show that development started around 2018 , and by 2020 a cactus based material - that was marketable as an alternative to less favourable ‘vegan’ leather - was ready to trial.

 Just a few years on and Cactus (also referred to a nopal) is one of a number of plant-based materials that is being used in the fashion industry. Our interest is predominantly in alternative materials to PU (Polyurethane) and other man made “vegan” materials that can be used in designing shoes. Cactus leather is a highly sustainable plant-based material suitable as such an alternative, with characteristics of great softness to the touch while providing ‘performance’ and durability for a wide variety of footwear applications. Cruelty free, Biodegradable, without any toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC .. its no wonder perhaps that the automotive and furniture is trialling is use in car seats and high-end domestic furniture. All this, and I have yet to highlight that its a natural ‘carbon sink’ – absorbing huge amounts of CO2, while requiring very little water. These means farms cultivating and processing it are carbon negative!

We believe that you will hear and read a lot about Cactus Leather. Yes from us at Cocorose London, but also in trade press, the environmental press, social media and major media channels. For the last few seasons Cactus has been on fashion trend watch lists and seen on catwalks around the globe. Animal leather is incredibly sustainable, its byproduct, very robust and if looked after can last decades. But we are always looking for alternatives, Cactus is one, Pineapple has been used for a few years now, but get ready for cork, apples, grape and mushroom!

So let’s cover some key questions around this plant based material.

What is Cactus Leather?

It is a vegan leather made from the leaves of nopal cactus. This is a plant that grows abundantly in dry arid areas – but has been particularly well cultivated in Mexico.  Nopal cultivation is fascinating because the plant has unique characteristics which provides it with resilience towards limiting conditions such as drought, poor soils and high temperatures. It can grow without irrigation and the ned for any pesticides. This could mean that millions of acres of land around the work, typically impoverished regions, could successfully grow these cacti. What I find exciting is that historically the revenue from such a crop was very low (use for animal feed for example) but with suitable processing facilities cultivating the nopal cactus could generate far better incomes for those famers.

Mature cactus leaves are harvested and passed through a cleaning and mashing process. It is dried over a period of about 3 days. Then proteins and fibres are extracted to make a bio-resin, like a liquid paste which is coated onto a base of recycled cotton (called a carrier) to give a different technical behaviour. The natural colour is a mustard yellow, but natural colours can be added to give a very broad spectrum of shades. The texture is very similar to .. well leather! The final material is smooth, durable, toxic -free and waterproof. The mature cactus leaves are harvested without cutting the cactus itself (like pruning) this allows a new harvest every 8-10 months, and a single cactus plant can harvest for 8 years. – Source Desserto®.

One of the most popular sources of nopal cactus leather is Mexico, where one business is growing a brand – that of DESSERTO® - through their innovation and marketing. Their work has created a vegan leather that is organic and biodegradable, but vitally it is versatile enough to be used for shoes, sofas and E-Car interiors.

Why look to use Cactus Leather in making Cocorose Shoes?

We are always search and researching new materials and new processes when it come to designing and making shoes. Initially in spring of 2020, when we and billions of others found themselves with a great deal of free time on our hands, we started serious researching alternative materials to PU (Polyurethane) and other man made “vegan” materials that we have used in making our travel range. There have been a number of materials becoming available that use old plastic bottles in the make up. This is great of course, but like “vegan leather” there is still a lot of plastic in the material. Pineapple ‘leather’ has been used in fashion but we were looking for material that could fold as well as suitable for use in show design.

Our personally discovery of ‘plant leather’ made from nopal cactus has lead us on a different journey. Not only is this a wonderful Eco-material where the cultivating and processing is actually carbon negative, not only is it very robust, but the finished material actually looks like animal leather.

Animal leather is incredibly sustainable, if its looked after it can be used over and over, and it is a byproduct. However, to discover a material that looks like animal leather when made up into shoe samples, is highly durable and resistant to water and abrasion feels like a real shift.

At Cocorose London we want to create a choice for you. However similar to when Janan launched her deconstructed ballet flat that was foldable, there shouldn’t need to be a compromise on design and comfort. So integrating Cactus Leather into our design process we are aiming to create a range of stylish vegan footwear to appeal to all. Our customer and followers are environmentally conscious, they are seeking products that combine purpose with a passion for the planet’s protection.

 We are going to look to diarise the journey. Please contact us about any thoughts you have, I would love to hear them and discuss them with you.

Stay well

Gareth AJ


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