Pineapple and cactus: a vegan leather revolution

Vegan handbag and accessory brand, Velvet Heartbeat, is one of the only brands in New Zealand to use Piñatex and cactus leather for its products. Starting the business in 2017, designer and owner Suzie Eggleton wanted her brand to be part of the global shift in how we produce and use the items we acquire to express ourselves.

As vegan leather alternatives are notoriously bad for the environment, and climate change is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Eggleton and her customers wanted something better. After a significant amount of research, it was decided that Piñatex was the best solution.

“Piñatex ticks all the boxes because it’s made from the leaves of the pineapple plants, a former by-product of existing pineapple farming. This means the farmers can get extra income and turn a former waste product into something useful and beautiful for us without any additional land, water, fertiliser or pesticides,” says Eggleton.

The brand also uses cactus leather to create handbags and is the first brand in New Zealand to do so, with it only landing on the world stage late last year. Eggleton says she didn’t think she would stand a chance of getting in with cactus leather so early, but after a direct talk to the founders themselves, she was able to know the product and company personally.

“Desserto, the makers behind cactus leather are very resourceful too, they only pick and process the mature leaves of their crop of nopal cactus (prickly pear) so the plant stays intact for the next harvest. Cacti are desert thrivers so the crop requires no irrigation, herbicides or pesticides, and can grow with minimal rainwater in the mineral-rich plantation.”

“I feel very proud to be able to bring this innovative textile from Mexico to New Zealand.”

Eggleton says working with the two textiles is similar to working with leather, which was the aim. The materials are of course thicker, however, meaning they are sturdier and work well for handbags and accessories.

Running Velvet Heartbeat from home has provided Eggleton with the freedom to financially grow as rent is lower than a commercial space. She has a large room as her designated workroom which has space to host meetings and room for people to come to help out when needed.

“Of course one day I’d love to take over a bigger space with a team of lovely staff but this is perfect right now.”

Velvet Heartbeat released a range of new Piñatex colours at the beginning of Lockdown and has recently launched its first release of cactus leather. The range also has a few different price points as Eggleton aims for plant-based ethical fashion to be accessible to as many people as possible.

“I really love our Liv bag, it’s one of those great all-rounders I’m always looking to make so you can wear it day or night and it looks good with anything. We recently launched our classic Chloë in cactus too, it’s been our biggest seller to date and people still love it, it feels necessary to have it in both cactus and Piñatex.”

Find out more at www.velvetheartbeat.com.

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