ProjectGreenLancaster

Sustainable Composites LLC Rejuvenating Wasted Leather

Sustainable Composites LLC takes wasted leather scraps to recreate usable leather products

Written by: Jordan Satterfield

Leather has become a staple material for various types of products that the world uses everyday. You go outside, you see a stranger walking down the street with a nice new pair of leather Timberland shoes. Or maybe you’re looking to purchase a new couch set from the furniture store. Leather is a desirable material for our sense of taste. Which is why Sustainable Composites LLC has created what they call Enspire Leather.

Photo Sustainable Composites headquarters in Lancaster, PA taken by Jordan Satterfield

Owners of Sustainable Composites LLC, Tom Tymon and Frank Fox are engineers and scientists with prior experience in R&D, production, management, as well as executive positions for a sub-division company of Armstrong World Industries before eventually selling the company in 2012. Tymon and Fox always have been concerned with utilizing materials to their full potential. They recognized that there was an opportunity to create great value uses for underutilized materials, which is where the wonderful idea of leather came from. The owners understood that there were other organizations that produces useful leather products, though the products wasn’t high-value products. However, the products of these organizations produce doesn’t deliver the same quality and desirable aspect of the leather products that Sustainable Composites LLC puts out according to the owners.

Photo of one of the leather products produced by Sustainable Composites taken by Jordan Satterfield

Enspire Leather passes the eye test and the overall use test as it is just as reliable and appealing as regular hide leather. In fact, it can easily be argued because of how the Enspire Leather is produced, it is better than the original leather.“It’s cheaper than hide leather because it comes in perfectly rectangular dimensions with no holes or imperfections. You get better yield as a result and you can send any leftover material back to us to recycle so you can become a zero-loss company,” Fox says. He expects costs savings to be at about 20% for its recycled leather.

The raw leather material Sustainable Composites uses comes from the Wilson football factory in Ada, Ohio. Contrary to popular belief, not all the leather makes the cut in being processed into a certified football. The excess material from the factory used to be sent to be incinerated or landfill, but now thanks to Tymon and Fox, all that potential wasted leather gets transported to the Sustainable Composites warehouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a result, thousands of pounds of waste is repurposed into quality leather products for the public to use and enjoy. 

Photo of the Scrap leather sent from the Wilson Football Factory to Sustainable Composites headquarters taken by Jordan Satterfield

The actual process to create Enspire Leather was not an easy feat, as Tymon and Fox had to rely on their scientific background.“We had to figure out how to break the bonds in leather to release the fibers and then turn them into a slurry that can be poured into a paper machine and formed into sheets. It was quite a job.” Knowing what they wanted to do, the owners turned to using chemistry for the how part to reach their desired goal for the leather. They finally discovered the right combination of common and Eco-friendly chemicals to produce what they were looking for. Hence, the “E” in their product title to highlight the environmental awareness in their products. Another sustainable friendly aspect that Enspire Leather results in is the fact that since it is indeed recycled leather, it cuts down on the amount of animals being killed as well as the amount of landfill.

Timeline by Jordan Satterfield

Enspire Leather has already caught the interest of other big name companies who are looking for environmentally friendly products such as La-Z-Boy. Enspire Leather is expected to debut their products for La-Z-Boy in 2020. Sustainable Composites is also looking to get into the $91.2 billion global fashion leather goods market as this market is heavily invested in finding sustainable sources and Enspire Leather fits that bill. The sustainable aspect of Enspire Leather even has caught the eye of the popular company Timberland. The president of the company, Jim Pisani, announced that Timberland will introduce their new footwear created from recycled leather from Sustainable Composites fall 2020.

Illustration by Jordan Satterfield from
Tom Tymon and Frank Fox

Sustainable Composites owners Tom Tymon and Frank Fox created a great product in Enspire Leather. The fact that the product is environmentally friendly and brings a new idea on how we recycle items is really inspiring. The two owners do have some history working together as both worked for a spun off company for Armstrong World Industries called Interface Solutions in 1999. Tymon was a chemist and Fox was a former CEO. They started the recycled leather project there but the company ultimately didn’t see the potential in the project. After the company was sold in 2012, Tymon and Fox went into retirement but that didn’t last long as both were back working on the leather project in Tymon’s basement. All of that work turned into Sustainable Composites and in that, Enspire Leather. When I asked Frank Fox what made him come out of retirement, his response was, “I couldn’t find a comfortable chair that I liked.”

The “E” in Enspire Leather

Sustainable Composites “special sauce” of chemicals that goes into their leather refurbishing process is focused on being environmentally friendly. One big component for their leather is that there is absolutely no petroleum products. The toxicity of petroleum contributes to air pollution, acid rain, and many illnesses in humans. Being that they want their product to be Eco-friendly, Sustainable Composites found a way to make sure petroleum was not used for Enspire Leather. Also, all of their products used to pull the leather fibers together are plant based. This is why Sustainable Composites chose to emphasize the “E” in Enspire Leather for their environmental awareness.

Related Stories:What makes Enspire Leather Unique?

Whenever you hear about a recycled leather you mainly think of bonded or composite leather which tends to have some of the same look and feel of leather but lacks the strength and same properties which makes it almost like paper rather than quality leather. Those recycled leather products doesn’t measure up to what Sustainable Composites is doing with their leather. Their products have a similar leather composition to traditional leather you buy from the store. Which means they aren’t relying on plastics or synthetic chemicals to hold their materials together but rather the strength of their fiber to make real leather with the same feel, look, and strength as ones from stores.

Future Plans for Sustainable Composites

Sustainable Composites isn’t content with where they are as of now even with their early success. They still have future plans for Enspire Leather. One of the things they want to expand on is receiving leather scraps from other companies in addition to the Wilson Football factory. Everyone in the leather industry produces waste which they would have to pay someone to take, thus sending their scrap leather to Sustainable Composites helps them save money and increases the base materials for Sustainable Composites. Another area they want to grow upon in the short future is marketing their own Enspire Leather accessories such as bags, belts, and other products. They hope to do focus groups and have people come look at their products and eventually be able to launch a series of accessories in house where people can buy Enspire Leather products in house on their website 

References

Sustainable Composites LLC, www.sustainablecompositesllc.com/about/.

Danziger, Pamela N. “Sustainable Composites Introduces Recycled Enspire Leather To Market, And La-Z-Boy And Timberland Sign On.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Nov. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2019/11/13/sustainable-composites-introduces-recycled-enspire-leather-to-market-and-la-z-boy-and-timberland-sign-on/#2fe00ec2472a.

“Sustainability.” La, www.la-z-boy.com/content/AboutLaZBoy/sustainability.

www.fibre2fashion.com. “Emerging Global Trends in Leather and Fashion Industry.” Fibre2Fashion, www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/7739/emerging-global-trends-in-leather-and-fashion.