Interview with Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cazarez – the Creative Minds Behind Desserto
Prepare to be enthralled by the dynamic transformation unfolding within the global fashion scene. The clamour for eco-friendly, sustainable materials is reaching an all-time high, and at the forefront of this movement is an innovative Mexican textile enterprise ready to disrupt the fashion industry. Immerse yourself in the inspiring tale of Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cazarez, the geniuses behind Desserto. Allow yourself to be fascinated by their groundbreaking invention—a cactus-derived leather that has not only sent shockwaves through the fashion sector but also contributed to animal preservation.
Passion-driven and steadfast, Adrián and Marte embarked on a journey with a singular goal—to revolutionise the leather industry. They aimed to devise a sustainable counterpart to traditional, animal-derived leathers. Interestingly, they found their eureka moment in an unlikely symbol of Mexican culture—the nopal cactus. Harnessing their endless creativity and unwavering faith in the cactus' potential, they converted this humble plant into a remarkable, leather-like material.
Perfect timing played a pivotal role in Desserto's skyrocketing popularity. An increasingly eco-conscious world was on the lookout for leather substitutes. People were becoming more aware of the environmental chaos caused by conventional leather production, amplifying the call for transformation.
Let's be honest—the leather industry, regardless of its origins—animal or synthetic—has long been mired in controversies over sustainability and ethical considerations. The conventional leather production process is enshrouded in secrecy, facing criticism for animal welfare issues, reliance on harmful chemicals, and even contributing to deforestation. Clearly, the need for a radical change was palpable.
Here comes Desserto—the invention of Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cazarez. Gear up for a seismic shift. Desserto presents a solution that is as environmentally friendly as it is luxuriously appealing. Its manufacturing method is a harmonious blend of eco-friendly and cruelty-free practices. Envision the cultivation and harvesting of nopal cacti with minimal water consumption and without any pesticides—it's an ecologist's ideal scenario.
But that's not all. Desserto leather stands out not just for its sustainability, but also for its robustness and premium quality. This isn't just another contender; it's a groundbreaking alternative that's making waves in the fashion industry. Ethical shoppers who've been seeking a responsible, practical alternative to traditional leather have hailed Desserto as a revolutionary change.
Adrián and Marte's vision extends beyond reshaping the fashion industry—they're on a quest to change the world. Their remarkable innovation highlights the limitless potential inherent in Mexico's cultural heritage and natural resources. By saving nearly a billion animals and courageously challenging the established norms, these visionary Mexican entrepreneurs guide us toward a more sustainable and empathetic future.
Their extraordinary journey offers a beacon of hope to dreamers, entrepreneurs, and pioneers worldwide. It serves as a reminder that with passion, ingenuity, and unwavering resolve, we can transform industries and make the world a better place. Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cazarez have demonstrated that sustainability and elegance can coexist, forever changing our perception and interaction with fashion. Get set to witness a historical turning point.
Adrián and Marte. We appreciate your time for this interview. Without further ado, let's dive in.
How did you meet, and what did you dedicate to before founding Desserto?
Marte and I (Adrian) met back in 2011 while studying in Taiwan. I got engaged in Research and Development for various technologies, including future materials, furniture, and low-frequency technologies to improve health. Thereafter, I joined the automotive industry. Marte was working on developing products with Aloe Vera and then Fashion, mainly in watches.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Desserto and how the idea came to life? What motivated you to develop a sustainable alternative to leather, and what challenges did you face?
We both shared an entrepreneurial spirit. We wanted to develop something with purpose. After brainstorming and getting our ideas and experiences together, we thought that if we could create a plant-based material as an alternative to leather. We could not only help to relieve the environmental impact of conventional materials like leather and synthetics, but also we could promote cruelty-free products and ethical practices in several industries. The idea became an inspiration, and we built a team of experts to develop Desserto, featuring at its core cactus as the primary raw material. This not only resonated with us, as we are both Mexicans, but we soon discovered the great potential of cactus for the development of sustainable materials.
How did the idea of using nopal (cactus) as a sustainable alternative to leather occur to you?
We considered cactus our primary raw material because it is a resilient plant. Cactus can grow in harsh conditions where other plants wouldn't survive. This could mean that if we made material from this plant, we could save significant amounts of water, agrochemicals and energy, and it turned out to be correct.
How do you view using nopal leather as an opportunity to promote Mexican culture and resources globally?
Desserto is a sustainable innovation that brings cultures together to work for positive change. Each product made with Desserto carries a part of Mexico.
What impact has the development of nopal leather had on local communities in Mexico, particularly regarding economic growth, job creation, and preserving traditional craftsmanship?
We love to work with local communities and see them grow with Desserto. Given the nature of our company, we implement sustainable principles that benefit local communities where cactus is grown, such as environmental, economic, social and ethical ones.
How does the use of nopal leather contribute to the sustainable development and environmental conservation of Mexico's natural resources, specifically regarding the cultivation and harvesting of nopal cacti?
Before our innovation, cactus was seen as a low-value plant, and interest from farmers to growing it was decreasing year after year. Still, we joined forces to develop technology in farms to give the cactus its highest value form. Usually, a kilogram of raw cactus is sold at 0.5USD; after processing it with our technology, its value totals 5.00USD per kilogram and can become a high-value raw material as a substitute for plastics.
How do your products differ from traditional leather in durability and quality?
Our materials are engineered as an alternative to leather in every aspect; this includes durability and performance. Our value relies on creating materials with a lower environmental footprint, but without sacrificing quality.
Could you explain the production process of cactus leather? What materials are used, and how are they transformed into a finished product?
Proteins, cellulose, and hemicellulose of cactus are extracted and converted into a liquid substance that replaces plastics. This substance is solidified in a way that gives a soft hand feel and can be used for many applications, from fashion products to automotive interior parts.
What are the environmental benefits of using sustainable leather over animal-derived leather?
Parting from the soil, cactus farming can potentially revert Land Use Change, and it is an excellent way of improving microflora and microfauna while enriching biodiversity and absorbing CO2. Furthermore, there is no irrigation applied and no use of agrochemicals. It is an organic and circular farming system. On the other hand, one of the significant impacts of leather comes from cattle ranching. Negative impacts are associated, such as deforestation, water-intensive use, and CO2 emissions. Then leather must be tanned, which requires even more water, toxic chemicals, and plastics to finish. Our innovation significantly reduces the use of water, CO2 emissions and chemicals.
What industries or products have you targeted as potential users, and why?
Desserto is currently used in the fashion industry to make footwear, handbags, apparel, accessories and luxury packaging. Furthermore, it is being used in interior design to make furniture. In the mobility industry, it is being evaluated to build interiors like seats of cars and aeroplanes.
What feedback have you received from consumers who have used products made by Desserto?
Brands that use Desserto materials have reported that consumers are delighted with the quality and sustainability delivered in the products. Moreover, Desserto has become a significant part of the brand's strategies by helping them achieve its sustainability goals.
How do the cost and pricing compare to traditional leather products?
Our pricing is at pair with leather. Nonetheless, efficiency is improved by delivering a standardized material format, which reduces waste compared to leather generated, which varies from hide to hide.
Have you encountered any resistance or scepticism from the fashion industry or consumers regarding adopting sustainable materials?
Indeed, some players in the industry are resisting change, and we have faced criticism on several occasions. Still, we see a high level of acceptance from end-consumers and a growth in pressure on brands to reduce their environmental impact, so we are confident that the change is inevitable.
What steps have you taken to scale up production and meet the growing demand?
We are the only plant-based material with a serious industrial production capacity and are present in two continents (America/Mexico and Europe/ Italy). Generally, the greatest challenge for innovations is to be scalable and reliable. We have done this right; we believe that innovations don't have to be perfect; they have to be better than what it's available out there in the market and ready to deliver in large numbers to create an actual change.
What other innovative or sustainable materials or technologies are you excited about in the fashion industry?
We are excited to see progress in the technology for replacing plastics with plants for both leather and textiles.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs looking to develop sustainable and eco-friendly solutions in the fashion industry?
Like a cactus, we must be resilient, and the fashion industry is fierce but inspiring. As long as you adhere to your values and commit to innovating and improving, you are in the right direction.
Regarding your plans, are you leaning more towards providing materials as a supplier for brands looking to replace the leather, expand your collection, or perhaps a mix of both?
As a material supplier, we are getting involved in other industries like automotive, aircraft, yachting, and mobility. As for the fashion industry, we plan to keep delivering materials, but we may also do some statement collections for end-consumers.
Could you please elaborate on the various brands and product categories —from cosmetics like lipstick to luxury items like super yachts— that you have collaborated with?
Some of the most iconic brands we have worked with in the fashion industry are Givenchy, Altuzarra, Onitsuka Tiger, Karl Lagerfeld and Balenciaga. On the super yacht side, we partnered with Oceanco in Aeolus and the automotive industry with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Given the nature of your work, one might assume that you both follow a vegetarian lifestyle. Is this assumption correct?
Our lifestyle is about balance; we believe in making better decisions to reduce our carbon footprint without depriving ourselves of experiences.
What is your favourite city, and which places would you recommend to a friend when they visit there?
Our favourite city is Guadalajara. It's a Mexican city that has it all.
We recommend going to Tlaquepaque to enjoy the traditional atmosphere and visit the Tequila community. Other interesting spots in Guadalajara are the beautiful Metropolitan Park, Andares shopping district and Chapalita, which is a traditional neighbourhood where you can find local art and delicious restaurants. Tonalá is another community to visit for artisanal crafts.
Thank you both for sharing your time with us. It has indeed been a pleasure.
Photos courtesy of Desserto