Mexican inventors Adrian Lopez and Marte Cazarez have developed the first organic leather made entirely from the nopal, or prickly-pear cactus, offering a sustainable, stylish and eco-friendly alternative to leather. They presented the innovative leather substitute to top designers at the Lineapelle International Leather Trade Exhibition in Milan this month.

Both worked for two years to create the leather alternative that they claim is not only environmentally sustainable and entirely plant-based but also is breathable and lasts for at least a decade, according to Mexican media reports.

Consumers and brands are increasingly turning away from inferior faux leathers made with petroleum-based plastics, which are hard to clean and far less breathable than genuine animal leather.

The nopal cactus has long been a national symbol of Mexico as well as a crucial staple of the Mexican diet. Since pre-Hispanic times, the antioxidant-rich nopal has been prepared in countless ways within the Mexican kitchen, whether mixed with salads, meats, poultry, avocado, eggs, cheeses, or blended with corn tortillas, candies and fruit juices.

The staple crop is also used as feed for livestock. Millions of acres across the country are devoted to cultivating the plant, which produces abundant amounts of both fruit and vegetables.

In addition to its edible qualities, the prickly pear has also been used for medicinal purposes and as a dye for textiles and murals. In recent years, Mexican inventors have even created a nopal fibre that can be used in the aeronautics industry or as a substitute plastic for biodegradable straws and cutlery.

Lopez and Cazarez guarantee that their product can last for 10 years and has the chemical and physical properties required by the fashion, furniture, leather goods and automotive industries.

The nopal leather can be used to make a small dress, purse, belt, watch strap, small bookcase or an armchair, Cazarez added.