Cactus Leather: Essentials You Need to Know About the Prickly Vegan Leather

Cactus leather is an innovative, vegan alternative to traditional leather, derived from the Nopal cactus.

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Cactus Leather: Essentials You Need to Know About the Prickly Vegan Leather

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Key takeaways

  • Cactus leather, also known as nopal leather, is a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather. 
  • While it's vegan leather, cactus leather boasts softness, breathability, and a texture similar to traditional leather.
  • Besides its eco-friendly features, cactus leather is also a more ethical material than conventional leather, as its production doesn't involve killing any animals.

The fashion industry accounts for a significant chunk of global greenhouse emissions. Annually, it’s estimated the industry produces 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — more than the maritime and aviation industries combined (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).

Leather production, in particular, is a major contributor to climate change and water pollution. But there is a new material rapidly gaining popularity among eco-conscious consumers and sustainable fashion brands that could revolutionize the fashion industry: cactus leather.

But what is cactus leather, and is it a suitable alternative to traditional leather? In this blog post, we'll explore everything you need to know about cactus leather, including its history, how it's made, what it's used for, and the pros and cons of using this material. 

What Is Cactus Leather?

Cactus leather, also known as ''nopal leather,'' is a vegan leather alternative made from the leaves of the nopal cactus plant or prickly pear cactus. The nopal cactus is native to Mexico and is a member of the Opuntia family.

While it's similar in appearance to traditional leather, cactus leather has a slightly different texture. Nonetheless, like traditional leather, the material can be used to make various items like cactus leather boots, bags, wallets, and belts, and it's particularly popular among consumers and fashion brands looking for sustainable alternatives to traditional leather.

What's the History of Cactus Leather?

Cactus leather is a relatively new textile material. First produced commercially in 2019 by Desserto, a Mexican company founded by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez — the two founders aimed to create a cruelty-free, sustainable alternative to animal leather that was comfortable and stylish. 

Since then, the material has rapidly gained popularity in the fashion industry, with several high-profile sustainable fashion brands, such as Luxtra and Svala, using it in their products. As more consumers demand sustainable products, the demand for cactus leather is expected to grow with a CAGR of 9.93% annually — forecasted to reach over 66 billion USD by 2026 (Criner, 2022).

How Is Cactus Leather Made?

Cactus leather undergoes a series of various steps to transform it into a finished product that looks similar to traditional leather. Here are the steps it undergoes:


First, harvesters select paddles that are mature enough to ensure the sustainability of the cactus while allowing it to regenerate new growth for future harvests. This sustainable harvesting approach ensures minimal impact on the delicate desert ecosystems and promotes the responsible management of cactus resources.

Cleaning and Drying

After harvesting, the cactus paddles undergo thorough cleaning to remove any impurities or debris. Afterward, the paddles are sun-dried for several days. 

Resin Creation

Next, the fibers and proteins are extracted and separated to make an organic bio-resin. This process usually involves the use of different non-toxic chemicals.


The bio-resin is then poured onto a backing or carrier material like recycled cotton, recycled polyester, or a blend. The coated material is then heated to cure the resin, bond the materials, and form cactus leather.

The final product is a material that looks and feels like traditional leather. However, cactus leather is more sustainable and ethical than traditional leather, as it doesn't involve the slaughter of animals.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Cactus Leather?

While cactus leather offers many benefits compared to conventional leather, it also has some downsides. Here are some of its pros and cons:

Pros of Cactus Leather

  • Cruelty-Free: Vegan leather offers a cruelty-free alternative to conventional leather, as no animals are harmed during its production.
  • Breathability: Unlike some synthetic alternatives, cactus leather is naturally breathable, allowing air to circulate through the material. This feature is especially advantageous for clothing and accessories, as it helps regulate temperature and moisture, enhancing overall comfort.
  • Lightweight: Cactus leather is lighter than traditional leather, making it an excellent option for consumers seeking lightweight and comfortable accessories or clothing.
  • Water resistance: Cactus leather exhibits inherent water-resistant properties, making it less susceptible to damage caused by light rain or splashes. 
  • Biodegradable: Unlike synthetic leather, which can take centuries to decompose, cactus leather is partially biodegradable.
  • Sustainability: The nopal cactus is a rapidly renewable resource that grows in arid regions, requiring minimal water and no pesticides for cultivation.
  • Versatility and aesthetics: Cactus leather has similar properties to traditional leather, including its softness, texture, and ability to take on various finishes. This makes it suitable for various fashion items such as shoes, bags, and accessories, allowing conscious consumers to embrace sustainable style without compromising aesthetics.
  • Low carbon footprint: Animal leather production contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, vegan leather production involves fewer carbon emissions. 

Cons of Cactus Leather

  • Limited availability: As cactus leather is still a relatively new material, it isn't as widely available as conventional leather.
  • Cost: Since it isn't readily available, cactus leather products are more expensive than traditional leather products.
  • Durability and longevity: While cactus leather shares several properties with conventional leather, some consumers have expressed concerns over its durability. Depending on the production process and intended use, some cactus leather products may require more regular replacement.
  • Environmental impact: While cactus leather is designed to be eco-friendly, some versions aren't entirely eco-friendly because they're blended with other synthetic fibers like polyester that are derived from non-renewable sources like crude oil. Look for brands that prioritize non-toxic and biodegradable materials to ensure the material's sustainability.
  • Water-intensive initial growth: While many people believe cactus plants don't require much water to thrive, they require plenty of water to flourish, particularly during the initial growth stages.

Is Cactus Leather Sustainable?

Compared to animal and faux leather, cactus leather is a more sustainable material. Here's why it's considered eco-friendly:

  • Water use: The production of animal leather garments requires significant water. For instance, it's estimated that the production of one leather jacket can use nearly 8,000 gallons of water. Vegan leather items, on the other hand, require much less water to produce. 
  • Land use: The production of animal leather requires large tracts of land. Cattle ranching is a major contributor to deforestation and biodiversity loss. Cactus leather, on the other hand, can be produced on land unsuitable for agriculture. Its production doesn't contribute to deforestation or habitat loss.
  • Energy use: Animal leather requires a significant amount of energy to produce. The tanning process, which is used to turn animal hides into leather, requires a lot of energy. Conversely, vegan leather doesn't require a lot of energy to produce because there's no tanning involved.

Nonetheless, while vegan cactus leather offers several eco-friendly features, it's essential to note that it's a relatively new material and more research needs to be done to understand its sustainability implications.

Additionally, when purchasing cactus leather products, it's vital to consider the material's sustainability can vary based on factors like manufacturing techniques and distance traveled during production and distribution.

What Fashion Brands Use Cactus Leather?

As more consumers become eco-conscious, numerous brands have embraced sustainable materials for their products. Here are some notable brands that have incorporated cactus leather into their collections:

  • Amour Vert: Amour Vert is a sustainable fashion label that makes women's clothing. 
  • Luxtra: Luxtra is an eco-conscious fashion brand that uses luxury vegan leather to make accessories like purses, wallets, and handbags.
  • Svala: Svala is a sustainable fashion brand that uses animal-friendly materials like cactus leather to make accessories like backpacks, purses, and tote bags.  


Is cactus leather as good as animal leather?

Cactus leather is more sustainable than traditional leather, making it an excellent choice for eco-conscious consumers. It also shares many desirable properties with traditional leather, making it a compelling and eco-friendly alternative in the fashion industry. Like traditional leather, it's soft, versatile, and breathable.  However, there are also several drawbacks to cactus leather. It's generally costlier than conventional leather and not as durable.

What are some common cactus leather products?

Cactus leather is a versatile material that textile manufacturers can use to create various fashionable products such as handbags, wallets, shoes, belts, and clothing.

Can cactus leather get wet?

Yes, cactus leather can get wet. However, it's water-resistant and doesn't absorb water as easily as traditional leather. It's also breathable, so it doesn't become soggy or moldy when wet.

Nonetheless, excessive or prolonged exposure to moisture can still damage cactus leather and cause discoloration, warping, or loss of softness. Thus, taking care of cactus leather items is essential to extend their lifespan and preserve their appearance.

Is cactus leather really sustainable?

Cactus leather is considered a sustainable alternative to traditional leather due to several eco-friendly characteristics and practices involved in its production. Unlike animal leather, it's considered sustainable because it's derived from a renewable resource, requires minimal water and energy to produce, and is biodegradable. 

Additionally, as a plant-based material, cactus leather offers a cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather, making it an ethical option for consumers who prioritize sustainable fashion.

Is cactus leather toxic?

Cactus leather is generally considered non-toxic and safe to use, especially when produced by reputable and responsible textile manufacturers. It's derived from the leaves of the nopal cactus, which is a non-toxic plant, and most versions of cactus leather use non-toxic, plant-based binding agents during the production process.

However, like with any product, the safety of cactus leather can depend on the specific materials and processes used in its manufacturing. Some potential concerns could arise if the cactus leather is treated with toxic chemicals or if certain synthetic additives are added to the material. Therefore, you should research and choose cactus leather products from trustworthy and transparent brands.

Also, if you have any allergies, you should test cactus leather on a small area of your skin before using it to ensure you don't have an allergic reaction.

What is the longest lasting leather?

The longevity of leather depends on several factors, including the type of leather, how it's processed, the quality of the hide, and how well it's maintained. Generally, full-grain leather is considered to be the longest-lasting type of leather. It's made from the top layer of the animal's hide and offers the best resistance to wear and tear. It's also less prone to cracking, fading, and damage than other leather variants.

Besides full-grain leather, other durable leather types include top-grain, bonded, and split-grain leather.

Does cactus leather use plastic?

While some textile manufacturers use plastic to produce cactus leather, others don't. According to one study, it was found that Desserto, one of the leading producers of cactus leather, uses up to 65% of plastic polyurethane in its products, while cactus only consisted of 30% of the material composition by weight (Lorenz & Lorenz, 2021).


Cactus leather is a new and innovative material that has the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry. While it looks similar to leather and shares many of leather's properties, it's more sustainable. Its production isn't energy-intensive, and it's typically produced using methods that don't involve using toxic chemicals. It's also a more ethical material, as its production doesn't involve the slaughter of animals. 

So, if you're looking for a more ethical and sustainable alternative to animal leather, you might want to opt for vegan cactus leather.


A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. (n.d.-b).

Criner, K. (2022). Cactus leather: the green leather alternative that is becoming a hit. Dhakai.

Lorenz, P., & Lorenz, P. (2021). Marketing Hype or Reality? Why Plant-and-Plastic Hybrids Are The Worst of Both Worlds. The Circular Laboratory.

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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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