From shoes for disadvantaged African children to designer bags, Southwest's old leather seat covers find a use
Footballs made by Alive & Kicking and shoes made by Masaai Treads are distributed to children at SOS Children's Villages (photo: Southwest)
Tue 27 Jan 2015 – Under the Evolve programme, Southwest Airlines carried out a major redesign of its Boeing 737-700 fleet, plus a portion of its 737-300s, which included replacing the leather covers on 80,000 seats with environmentally friendly materials. This resulted in the weight of each aircraft being reduced by around 600 pounds (270kgs) but left the airline with 43 acres (17.4ha) of leather to dispose. Rather than sending to landfill, Southwest launched an initiative last year called LUV Seat in which the leather has been ‘upcycled’ and donated to projects in Kenya, Malawi and the United States. The leather has now been used for social projects to manufacture a variety of goods such as shoes and footballs in Africa, and a company in Portland, Oregon, has released a line of designer travel bags that has proved so popular there is a waiting list of would-be buyers.
In Nairobi, SOS Children’s Villages Kenya, the project’s primary non-profit partner that serves orphaned children and families in need, along with three other partners – Alive & Kicking, Masaai Treads and Life Beads Kenya – will use the leather to produce goods for distribution to local community groups.
Through the partnership, SOS youth are receiving paid apprenticeships and training to make shoes and footballs from the leather. The footballs are donated to support education programmes that use sports to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, and the shoes are distributed as part of a campaign to combat the jigger, a parasite that burrows under the skin. One recipient of the donated products is the Cura Orphanage, a residence for children who have lost their parents to AIDS.
Other partners include US-based non-profit TeamLift, which at a boarding school facility under construction in Malawi is developing a leather works training programme that will teach entrepreneurial skills while generating proceeds that will support the school.
Meanwhile in Portland, Looptworks, a company that rescues premium excess materials to design and produce sustainable goods, is upcycling Luv Seat leather into limited edition, hand-made bags. Looptworks has come up with three different designs – a backpack, a duffle bag and a convertible tote bag – which retail from $150 to $250. So popular have they proved that there is currently a five to seven week wait on orders.
The company claims that 4,000 gallons of water are conserved along with a 72% reduction in CO2 emissions from the making of each recycled bag compared to a virgin leather bag. It is also working with a local non-profit that is providing jobs to disabled adults who deconstruct and clean the Southwest seat material.
Southwest says the initiatives are the first phase of a multi-year campaign to re-use the leather in upcycling projects around the world.
“The Evolve redesign was a major milestone in supporting our sustainability goals,” said Bill Tiffany, VP Supply Chain Management for the airline. “But we didn’t want to stop there – with the pilot of LUV Seat in Nairobi, Malawi and the United States, we’re embarking on a new vision of social impact through training, job creation and ultimately product donation.
“We look forward to identifying additional partners through a call to action, using the #LUVSEAT hashtag, for our employees, customers and the general public to share their ideas of how we should upcycle the remaining leather.”