How 2 retired scientists developed a recycled leather product
- Frank Fox and Tom Tymon used their knowledge of textile engineering to develop recycled leather.
- Through their Sustainable Composites business, they partner with major brands like Timberland.
- They’ve found they work best with partners who really want to be sustainable, not just cut costs.
- This article is part of a series called “Partners for a Sustainable Future”, describing innovative alliances that are driving real progress in sustainability.
The global fashion leather goods market is estimated at a several billion dollars industry – but it’s also very inefficient.
United Nations Industrial Development Organization valued in 2003, some 3.5 billion pounds of leather waste is sent to landfills or incinerators each year, and between 25% and 60% of the leather used to make small leather goods is discarded.
Retired scientists Frank Fox and Tom Tymon decided they wanted to use their background in chemistry and textile engineering to do something good for the planet and developed a leather recycling process.
Their Lancaster, PA-based company Durable composites, founded in 2012, developed Enspire Leather, a recycled leather product that replicates the look, feel, smell and performance of tanned hide at half the price. Today, they partner with manufacturers like Timberland to improve durability and reduce costs along the way.
Manufacturers want to become more sustainable
Frank Fox told Insider that at the research and development stage of the product, they found that a growing number of manufacturers were taking their environmental responsibility seriously.
“We have found it very easy to form partnerships because people are eager to work with us. What we do is try to solve their particular problem and start a program to help them do it,” he said. -he declares.
Problems they are typically asked to solve include recycling surplus finished products, such as shoes and bags, to reuse the material or recovering scraps of leather from the manufacturing process.
“What has emerged is that companies generate large amounts of waste, and they want to work with us to recycle that waste into a product that they can use in their wallet,” Fox said.
The process begins with Sustainable Composites collecting samples of a company’s leather, then applying their patented technology to break the bonds of the leather, releasing the fibers.
From there, the product is made into a slurry – a crushed mixture of fibers in water – and poured into sheets to use as regular material.
Making as many winners as possible is the key to success
Fox said they’ve been fortunate enough to find many of their partners through word of mouth in the industry, but have yet to sell their idea.
“One important thing we’ve learned is that businesses have a lot of decision makers involved. The more winners you can create, the better off you are,” he said.
Fox and Tymon make sure that their pitch speaks directly to different areas of the business.
“Our product is basically cheaper leather, and the buying agent likes it. The manufacturer gets a lot better performance and throughput improvements. The marketing manager has a new product, so he’s also a winner,” a- he declared.
Fox said they see themselves as an innovative company similar to Coca-Cola.
“We have all the magic ingredients that we use, we prepare them all. Then we will take them to the manufacturing sites to make the product and teach our partners how to make it,” he said.
One advantage of this business model is that they have an almost unlimited capacity to produce the product.
“Because we are not linked by a certain chain of manufacturing facilities, it allows us to globalize without too much effort. Our business plan is to be the innovators with the material and to transport it to places of manufacture, ”he said. noted.
Businesses can’t just focus on costs
Tymon added that they’d rather work with companies interested in recycling rather than just cutting costs – although he notes that a uniform roll of their recycled leather can result in cost savings of 30-60%.
“We believe that we will have the greatest potential for success with companies that are really serious about sustainability – companies that will do whatever it takes to integrate a new material into their supply chain,” a- he declared.
One of those companies was outdoor retailer Timberland, which was one of the first manufacturers to see the potential of recycled leather after the Sustainable Composites sales team reached out to the brand to ask how. create a recycled product for her.
Global brand president Jim Pisani told Insider the partnership is part of its commitment to minimize the environmental impact of its products.
“Leather is a hallmark of the Timberland brand and a key area of focus for responsible innovation,” he said.
“We are incredibly excited about the prospect of recycled leather as we work towards a more sustainable supply chain and look forward to presenting our first collection of recycled leather footwear,” he added.