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Sans Beast Francisco Cactus Leather Handbag, shown next to the nopal cactus fields in Zacatecas, Mexico


By Cathryn Wills


Starting from an ethos of no animal products in our materials, we are always working to have more bio-based vegan leather in our handbag range.

There's much that goes into developing bio-based fabrics as viable alternatives to leather + then getting them into production, and our founder, Cathryn, has nurtured a relationship with the innovative team at Desserto since 2019. Our Francisco handbag made from Desserto's organic cactus 'leather' has recently returned in our latest collection, so it's timely to revisit her Mexico travel log, written while the world was shut down:


Sans Beast founder Cathryn with Desserto founders Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazare at their cactus leather plantation




"International travel feels like a distant memory, and I look back on the many trips I've taken with the hindsight of privilege + a grateful heart.  The environment has thanked humankind for not doing long haul flights, yet I can't deny I miss it.  It's through travel that I've connected with businesses + individuals across the globe, to educate, inspire + broaden my mind. 

We started talking with the founders of Adriano Di Marti, the makers of Desserto Pelle, Adrian Lopez Velarde + Marte Cazarez, in October 2019 when they presented their collection at Raw Assembly.  I believe it's important to know who we're buying from, and where / how the fabric is being produced, so after talking over email with Adrian + Marte, Mexico was promptly included in my travel plans.  I visited Guadalajara in February 2020, to visit the cactus fields where the nopal is grown + harvested,  and learn as much as possible (without impacting the founders' intellectual property) about this innovative new material.   

I spent a full day with Adrian + Marte, heading out of Guadalajara at 8am, to drive to the cactus plantation in Zacatecas - a 4 hour drive, through countryside both green + semi arid in parts, not dissimilar to Australia.  When we finally arrived, we were met by the charming Francisco, the ranch owner + farmer who tends the land + crops.  He grows nopal (Opuntia Cacti), alfalfa + garlic.  We named our first cactus leather style after Francisco, as a tribute to this gentleman of the land, who, on a chilly day in Zacatecas, gave up his coat to this wandering Australian who didn't dress appropriately for the occasion.


Desserto Pelle cactus leather plantation with founders Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez with ranch owner Francisco with nopal plants surrounding them in Zacatecas, Mexico



After seeing the nopal in neat rows, learning about its hardiness + incredible sustainability attributes, walking through rows of alfafa + sampling some home grown garlic, we departed for the long drive 'home'.  We stopped at a vegan taqueria called Avocado Punk in Aguascalientes for sustenance + then finally, I was delivered back to Casa Pedro Loza.  

I feel so fortunate to have made it to Mexico before the world shut down.  The long drive was in good company, with many laughs along the way + I enjoyed being in a more casual situation, where I could learn some of the trials + tribulations of the making of Desserto Pelle.  Marte + Adrian are not only business partners, they're best friends + they share the same birthday - which they were celebrating the day after I left.   Their commitment to their business, vision + the manufacturing provenance of their home country of Mexico, is incredibly admirable.


Closeup image of Nopal cactus used to make Desserto cactus leather


We had planned on having cactus leather in our collection in November 2020, but with the various challenges of last year, we made the hard call to wait until the moment was right for us + for Tony's factory."  


Fast facts on cactus leather.

1. No irrigation system is required, just natures' ale with rainfall.

2. Soil is enriched through micro flora + fauna, through native organic cactus.

3. Environmental preservation as no chemicals are used, like herbicides or pesticides.

4. Cactus is left unharmed to enable repeated harvesting from the same plant.

5. Energy saving by drying the feed-stock in a solarium.

6. Full traceability of the farm to ensure sustainable social practices.



The Francisco Ox crossbody is back in the Sans Beast collection, after first launching in 2021. We're so thrilled to be using Desserto cactus leather once again, and we continue to work to expand the range.

Two images of the Francisco Vegan Crossbody Bag in cactus leather, styled with the Corridor Strap + Elemental Chain Strap







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