An Interview with Marte Cazarez Duarte
This is a best-selling story of two Mexican men - Adrian and Marte, who learnt the philosophy of sustainability from a master (the cactus plant);an enduring survivor in the extreme conditions of a desert. Metaphorically, the hectic times of fashion inspired Adrian and Marte to create that bright idea - DESSERTO. Let’s hear from Marte about their awesome product; the vegan leather made from cactus with their magical recipe.
TCL: How did you make the leap to start a career in fashion and join forces with Aidran?
MCD: I had always the desire and the interest to create a fashion brand since I was younger. I started to work in a fashion accessories company. Just few months after I finished my degree - where I especially worked with one of the biggest fashion brands in Mexico.
After both of us had the experience of being exchange students by the Rotary Club in Taiwan (one in 2008 and the other in 2009), we became mutual friends. In 2011, some Taiwanese friends introduced us and that is how we met each other for the first time. When speaking we figured out that we were both Mexicans born on the same day, month and year.
TCL: How did you come to the decision to use cactus as a source for your vegan leather? What is the miracle of cactus? Were there other candidate plants you had tried?
MCD: We had to brainstorm on which plant to focus our R&D on and being in Mexico - where cactus is not only abundant but also a national symbol which can be seen in our national flag we decided to focus our efforts around this plant.
Down the line, we figured that cactus was the ideal plant to work with because it low environmental footprint. It does not require water irrigation systems to grow, nor pesticides or herbicides given the natural strength this plant has.
Also, the growing rate is very quick and is abundant allover the country which makes it an scalable raw material which is affordable and can be planted and harvested by anyone in most regions around the world regardless of climate change which normally affects agriculture.
It is important to remark that we don’t kill the plant, we just cut the mature leafs and then processes them into our raw material, so the same cactus plants give us more raw material each 6-8 months. By fomenting cactus plantations we contribute to CO2 reduction given the natural efficiency of the plant to absorb CO2.
TCL: In terms of wearing performance in the product, can DESSERTO meet the performance of genuine leather? Apart from its being more sustainable, is there a difference in terms of quality?
MCD: DESSERTO meets the most rigorous quality and environmental standard of the industry and we can always customise the materials to our clients needs. The main difference is that our material is made from cactus plants and not from animals or PVC. In our process to obtain our main raw material - the nopal - it does not have an irrigation system therefore we do not use herbicides or pesticides and the drying is in a solarium - no energy used.
TCL: What is your production capacity? Do you believe vegan leathers such as DESSERTO can replace genuine leather in the close future?
MCD: We started with a production capacity of 500,000 linear meters per month but we have the capability to increase it exponentially.
TCL: There are many start-up fashion brands who create solely sustainable clothes. However, their main challenge is the minimum order quantity. What is your MOQ? Can you support such start-up brands?
MCD: It is true that sometimes new technologies and innovations tend to be expensive and hard to be reachable but we worked to be a material reachable and accessible for everybody.
Currently we are in an industrial capacity were we can offer competitive prices with low MOQs. Also, we always keep our own stock of different colours and textures to sell to small brands, designers, students, etc who can’t afford a MOQ but had the interest to make a positive environment impact with their designs.
TCL: From the circularity point of view, how is the next life of a product made from DESSERTO? Can it be recycled or up-cycled?
MCD: We are working on enhancing biodegradability and mixing our materials with recycled fibres. This way we are able to solve the waste problematic from two approaches, biodegradability avoids accumulation of waste while recycling rescues waste from oceans and landfills giving existing raw material a new life.
We have some versions of DESSERTO which are 80% biodegradable and other less. It all depends on the type of material we develop for specific applications as the needs aren’t always the same.
It is important to mention that we only consider biodegradable those compositions which will biodegrade within a time frame of 3-6 years in a landfill. Its special composition (under anaerobic landfilling conditions) that actually makes it easier for bacteria to reach and digest the discarded material; thus accelerating the biodegradation process.
DESSERTO is eliminated from the planet in around just five years. Unlike other fibres - which take decades to decompose. The remaining percentage is free of toxicity such as heavy metals and phthalates so these can be recycled without harming the environment.
TCL: How is the market reaction to DESSERTO? Are you pleased with the demands?
MCD: We are satisfied knowing that the market and interest on vegan alternatives is growing very fast. DESSERTO has been in the market for only 10 months and the reaction of clients it’s been always positive. Of course day by day, we work on new formulation to always offer better solutions for every client.
TCL: In your site you have a funny introduction video which is so warm and informative. There, you mention that your project is not only environment friendly - but it also creates jobs. Can you please tell more how you contribute to employment?
MCD: We take care of the rural agricultural sector which collaborate with us, stimulate their economy by adding value into their production chains to create highly sustainable materials to be incorporated into the major relevant industries -such as fashion and automotive - whilst taking care of ethical practices all along our value chain. As we increase the demand, we will need more activities in the rural sector; offering new jobs and new technics that add value to their current productions of Cactus.
TCL: We are living the pandemic which seems to be the milestone of our era. Which changes you foresee in fashion sector and in consumer behaviours coming with the new normal?
MCD: The fashion industry needs a transition of materials soon. The pandemic came as a player to hurry up the consumer mentality to adopt sustainable alternatives - not only in fashion - but in all our daily activities.