Jesus Chavez Aguilar is well aware that most of the men’s wallets hidden in pants pockets are old, overstuffed and in some cases practically falling apart. What he’s offering with CACTO might represent the extreme opposite: a set of wallets and billfolds that are slim, stylish and (a world first) carbon negative.
Officially launched earlier this month from Chavez’s home base in San Jose, Calif., CACTO’s initial includes zippered wallets, tri-folds and pocket organizers.
While this is what you might expect from an accessories company, what’s less expected is the use of organic Cactus leather, which is free of toxic chemicals, vegan, partially biodegradable, and zero waste.
CACTO goes beyond typical sustainability efforts, though. Chavez has formed a 10 year partnership with Swiss nonprofit organization On A Mission, to measure and offset 150% of the company’s CO2 emissions through reforestation projects that will take place around the world. By the end of this year, he plans to offset 1000% of the emissions it generates — at least.
“I want to transmit a message of hope,” Chavez told Menswhere in a recent phone conversation. “We still have time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but what we do from now to then is going to determine what happens in the next century.”
While major conglomerates such as Unilever and Ikea have strived to make their manufacturing process carbon neutral, Aguilar said carbon-negative is a more critical target. That’s difficult to do when you have a huge supply chain, but CACTO wants to challenge a sector, fashion, that annually emits the same level of greenhouse gas emissions as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.
In some respects, CACTO builds upon Aguilar’s work in an entirely different sector. As a longtime communications professional, he had been working behind the scenes with a slew of climate change-related conferences. When COVID-19 shut down those kinds of events, he finally had the time to pursue a passion he says he’s had for some time.
“I wanted to offer an alternative to the market — something better than animal leather which would be software, more sustainable and also affordable,” he says.
Through contacts in Mexico he heard about Cactus leather, which he describes as “extraordinary carbon sinks” because they capture CO2 from the atmosphere and then trap it underground as calcium carbonate. When Aguilar visited Mexico to touch and feel the leather for himself, however, he realized there were no tradeoffs from a fashion and style perspective.
“It’s probably the better alternative that looks the most like leather — better than leather made from apple, pineapple and grape. I’ve seen them all,” he said.
CACTO’s first collection, called “Heritage,” will eventually feature about 30 items by this summer, though the dominant aesthetic is simple and canny. You can buy one of the wallets in black — a classic mens’ choice — or a Cactus-coloured dark green. Opting for the latter can make your wallet stand out and also serve as a conversation-starter about your own commitment to climate change activism.
“I wanted to reach the global citizen, the person who doesn’t really see national borders,” he said in reference to his ideal customer. “He sees himself as someone who can interact with any kind of person regardless of race, political affiliation, or gender.”
The question is whether — amid options like Apple Pay and cryptocurrencies — that global citizen will still need to carry a wallet, whether from CACTO or anyone else. Aguilar believes he will.
“Money will probably disappear — in some counties it’s already on the way out,” he allows. “But credit cards will be a big thing. I don’t carry cash personally. All I need is an ID, driver’s licence, and a card to get in my building. It is clear to me that there is a still a need fo having something nice where you can carry your daily items.”
This is why, even if the company is carbon negative, Aguilar isn’t expecting men to stockpile wallets and card holders in large quantities. His is a less-is-more vision, where a CACTO wallet is both “something you can use in a wedding or go to Costco, or on a date,” and something that lasts.
“I want people to buy one wallet they can use through the year in every occasion, in every season,” he says. “Everything takes resources to make. I don’t think we can afford to have six-seven wallets for different events. We don’t have the natural resources. I think people who share my values and my worldview are going to feel the same way.”