Upcycling takes to the skies

With the aim of cutting the weight of their airplanes and subsequently saving fuel, Southwest Airlines had over 80,000 obsolete leather seat covers and a real challenge on their hands. They didn’t want to add their lot to a landfill, but rather wanted a sustainable solution for their 174,000㎡ of leather.


Enter Project LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose, Southwest Airline’s initiative to upcycle their obsolete leather seats into soccer balls, shoes and bags among other items. Not only is the airline giving new life to their leather seats, but they are also providing jobs and skills training for disadvantaged and physically challenged people in Nairobi, Kenya as well as locally in the United States.


To make Project LUV Seat a reality, the airline partnered with nonprofit organisations in Kenya, including SOS Children’s Villages Kenya, Alive & Kicking, Maasai Trends, and Life Beads Kenya. After providing them with the necessary skills required to make leather items, the young adults were responsible for making soccer balls, shoes, backpacks, wallets and makeup bags. The majority of the products were then donated to organisations and villages around Kenya.

Southwest airlines soccer ball

Southwest Airlines has done great work, but they aren’t the first airline to embrace the world of upcycling. Over the last few years, we have seen various airlines upcycling seat covers, uniforms, life jackets, billboards and carbon fibre into awesome new products. Delta Air Lines were one of the first to look at upcycling when they created bags from their seat covers. Then KLM created bags, belts and slippers from their staffs’ uniforms. Finnair also upcycled their uniforms into bags, while Air France created bags from life jackets and billboards. Finally, Boeing has utilised their leftover carbon fibre to create protective athletic gear with sports equipment manufacturer, Russell Brands.


Southwest Airlines are now looking to replicate the project in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The sky’s the limit of what upcycled products we may see next from Southwest Airlines and well as other airlines.

Images via Southwest Airlines
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