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Simon and Mary turns cactus leather into smooth hats

by | Nov 2, 2020

In a bid to move away from producing environmentally unsustainable and unethical textiles, fabric innovation has taken a front seat in the fashion industry and entrepreneurs are looking in their fruit baskets and at their local flora and fauna for inspiration to innovate.

Last week, Simon and Mary, the South African milliners, launched a range of hats made from a cactus vegan leather: a capsule collection of classic baseball caps and bucket hats in black, beige and cactus green. “The material works beautifully with the styles we’ve gone for – the colours and shape of the product,” Simon and Mary’s Dean Pozniak. The cactus leather is imported from Desserto – a Mexican-based company.

Unlike traditional leather which made from animals, involves the use of large of quantities of water and toxic chemicals during the tanning process, cactus leather is partially made from ‘Nopal’ cactus, also known as the prickly pear. The vegan leather is characterised by its highly sustainable, partially-biodegradable, cruelty-free properties made without toxic chemicals, phthalates or PVC.

The advantages of the using cactus appear multifold. Not only is the plant a carbon sink, the plant relies solely on rainwater. It grows in abundance in Mexico, causes minimal disturbance to the ground. Founders of Desserto, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez liken harvesting the cacti to having a haircut: the mature leaves or pad’ of the cactus are cut off and within a few months start growing again.

Grown on Adrián and Marte’s plantation in the Mexican state of the Zacatecas in a patented process, the leaves are cut, cleaned, mashed, dried, treated with non-toxic chemicals and shaped into different textures in different colours which are produced through natural dyes developed by their company.

The result is a vegan leather soft to the touch and durable, with the potential to be used not only in the fashion industry but in the automobile and furniture industries as well.

On par with the pricing of animal leather, you can get Simon and Mary’s cactus leather baseball cap for R800 and the cactus leather bucket hat for R950.

The Cactus Leather range is an exciting new direction for Simon and Mary. “We want to continue working with it and may look into other products,” Dean says. The range is released along with the launch of the long-anticipated Simon and Mary online store where the new pieces, along with the rest of Simon and Mary’s classics, are just a tap away.

[Ed’s note: The above story has been edited to reflect that this fabric, although vegan-friendly, is not confirmed to be biodegradable nor is it recyclable. It is made of two layers, one of which contains 30% cactus, other plant-based content and bio PU while the second layer is a polycotton of which 65% is virgin polyester.] 

Watch the entire process here:

Cactus leather range credits:

  • Photography and styling – Koos Groenewald @janaandkoos
  • For more information visit Simon and Mary’s website
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