This Innovative Material Is Made Entirely from Leather Scraps

Leather offcuts are ground and pressed into sheets almost identical to traditional leather.

enspire leather products

Sustainable Composites LLC

Leather is complicated and controversial. On one hand, it's a natural material that lasts a long time, ages well, and is biodegradable at the end of its life. On the other hand, it comes from an animal that may have lived an awful life and whose hide underwent a chemically-intensive tanning process that could have harmed workers in an underdeveloped country. 

What's the alternative? Well, you could buy secondhand leather and take comfort in the fact that you're not driving demand for new resources. Or you could explore vegan leather alternatives, often made from recycled plastic (these are controversial, too) or materials such as cork. 

Now, however, there's another fascinating option on the horizon – a composite material called enspire leather that's made entirely from leather waste scraps. Enspire leather could be a logical solution to this ethical and environmental dilemma. It diverts an enormous amount of waste from landfill, spares animals, and creates a product with the exact same qualities as traditional leather.

The fashion industry discards between 25% and 60% of leather as scrap, totaling roughly 3.5 billion pounds tossed or incinerated annually. This is partly because hides are irregularly shaped and must be cut to precise patterns; there is no use for the leftover bits. The creators of enspire, however, have developed a process that combines mechanical and chemical methods to grind up the scraps and reform them into a perfect 54" sheet that contains all-leather fibers and is free from holes and defects.

enspire leather rolls
Sustainable Composites LLC

The company that makes enspire leather is called Sustainable Composites LLC and its founders, Frank Fox and Tom Tymon, spoke with Treehugger over email. They said that the leather content of enspire is similar to that of traditional leather:

"Photo micrographs of the surface of enspire leather where it has been broken in a tensile test shows the same microstructure appearance as traditional hide leather subjected to the same conditions. It is the only material which has this feature."

Because of this, enspire can be finished in the exact same way as traditional leather, using intense mechanical milling or paint finishes to create whatever product a manufacturer wants, whether it's a highly durable finish for automative seats or a soft luxurious finish for fashion accessories. 

It's no wonder that when people see enspire leather, they assume it is traditional leather. According to Fox and Tymon, "Since it is a new material it has some differences from traditional leather, but in most aspects it has the qualitative and quantitative properties of traditional leather." It even develops the same soft patina over time.

Even more appealing is the fact that it's all American-made. The scraps are collected within the United States and the initial grinding process occurs at a facility owned by Sustainable Composites LLC in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. From there, "the prepared (ground) waste along with proprietary formulations are sent to factories in upstate New York to be formed." The founders go on to tell Treehugger that enspire can be sold as an unfinished product if a buyer wishes to work with another U.S.-based tannery or leather finisher.

enspire leather closeup
A closeup view of enspire leather. Sustainable Composites LLC

So far, footwear company Timberland has said it will use enspire, although the launch of its shoes was delayed due to the pandemic. The company founders said it should be introduced soon. 

Enspire is a game-changer for the fashion industry because it resolves so many issues simultaneously. This is the kind of innovation we need in the fashion industry – repurposing waste that would otherwise clog landfills and emit methane as it degrades – and no doubt many other companies will be eager to use it once they learn about its unique and impressive qualities. 

You can learn more on the Sustainable Composites LLC website.

View Article Sources
  1. Taylor, Brian. "Textiles Recycling Gaining Global Investments". Waste Today, 2020.