Sustainability is so intrinsic to us that we have never thought of it as a separate issue to any of the decisions we make, no matter how big or small. — a Q&A with ELeather CEO, John Kennedy
1. Tell us about ELeather and your company’s mission?
To understand our mission you only have to look back at our founder, Chris Bevan, who was an entrepreneur and inventor with a passion for solving problems. He recognised a huge waste stream in the leather industry some twenty plus years ago, long before the world had acknowledged the crisis our planet is now facing. A shocking amount of leather is destined for landfill, left wasted and unrecycled, creating an enormous carbon footprint. After a lot of trial and error and sheer determination, Chris developed and pioneered a completely unique technology with a vision to create high-performance materials by recycling leather fibres. ELeather, as we know it today, continues to draw from Chris’s vision and his commitment to creating materials that simply don’t cost the earth. One way we’ve kept that inspiration alive was by naming our new-state-of-the-art facility ‘The Bevan Centre’.
We’re committed to minimising our environmental impact by making efficient use of the world’s scarce, natural resources and severely limiting our carbon emissions while creating the high-quality products that our consumers demand.
We have already built an enviable reputation for quality and service in demanding markets and have partnered with some of the largest and most successful brands in the world, such as Nike. We were founded in the UK, but we have grown to export over 90% of our sales to more than 50 countries and we supply industries ranging in everything from aviation to public transport and footwear.
Our impact so far has seen us recycle enough leather to make 35 million pairs of shoes, offset enough energy to power a mid-sized town and save enough water to fill over 18,000 Olympic swimming pools. Ultimately, our goal is to keep creating what people want and what the planet deserves.
2. How have you/ the business navigated the past 18 months and what is one lesson you’ve learned from that experience?
This has been a deeply uncertain period punctuated by rapidly changing circumstances and it has really tested our decision-making capabilities. Start-up and growth companies perhaps have an advantage in the sense that we already must make the most of an environment of uncertainty and shifting goalposts, so in some ways the past 18 months has seen us building on existing experiences — just to a more extreme and rapid extent.
Our approach, first and foremost, was to remain calm and to constantly balance the need for quick decision-making with the fact that the information we needed to make those decisions was always changing or improving with time. We had to find our place and a sense of stability in a fluid environment. Soon, though, a new way of framing and evaluating our choices and potential outcomes through semi-structured processes became second nature to us.
Yet, none of this would have been possible without our dedicated team and partners. The lesson that we learned is that a business is only as good as its people, and we are incredibly lucky to have such talented and committed staff who continued to work together and to think on their feet as new challenges arose.
3. What do you foresee as the biggest impact you’re making in your industry/market/vertical?
There is often an assumption that making products to mitigate damaging environmental impacts must subsequently come at a cost — either financially, or in terms of quality. Some still believe that if you want to make a product that has the longevity of our planet and the best interests of our environment at heart, it might not perform as well or it might not be as desirable as other products on the market that aren’t as conscious of their carbon footprints or sustainability. Yet, what we have been showing our customers and other businesses is that you can have it all. You can manufacture and purchase high-performing, desirable materials with a fraction of the environmental impact — there does not need to be a hidden compromise in other areas. It is something that other businesses should be considering when it comes to their output and operations too.
4. Why is sustainability core to your business and operations?
From the initial idea and concept of ELeather to where we are today, sustainability has been at the core of what we do and why we do it. Climate change and our continual depletion of the already-scarce natural resources that we have in our planet is perhaps the biggest global crisis facing humanity today. We are increasingly seeing the impact of human neglect of the environment in all aspects of our existences — it cuts across borders, class, race and wealth. No one is immune.
In our minds, then, there is no alternative but to ensure sustainability continues to remain at the core of our business and operations. If we did not consider the continuing existence of the resources, we use to make our products and the impact of their production on the world at large, we would not be building a company with longevity in mind. There is no business without sustainability — it is so intrinsic to us that we have never thought of it as a separate issue to any of the decisions we make, no matter how big or small. It is interwoven into all our processes and goals for the future.
5. What are your plans for the 2022?
We have big plans for 2022. We are continually developing new products and testing our technology to create broader ranges of sustainable fibres, and next year we have a range of new products ready for launch. We will be moving into new markets and working with an even broader range of leading brands, including developing high-performance sustainable materials for the automotive industry and further expanding into the consumer and lifestyle space.
Among the new initiatives ready for launch are our Grain and Metallic collections, which enhance our existing range of lightweight and low-maintenance materials. Recently launched next-generation material Essence, contains added anti-microbial properties, and has been tested against more than a hundred different cleaners and sanitisers in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
We are also constantly recruiting and expanding our talent base, ensuring that we have the best and brightest working with us in the industry.
6. Looking further ahead, where do you see opportunities for ELeather in the next five to ten years?
One of the biggest benefits of working at the cutting-edge of sustainability in our field is that the range of opportunities we could pursue is truly mind-blowing. The main task at hand is to select a portfolio of the best opportunities that could ensure our growth as a company and the strengthening of our core values. Once this portfolio has been chosen, we would then focus a talented team on them in order to achieve their full potential.
I can foresee a situation in the not-so distant future where we have production facilities around the globe producing materials that are based on a select range of sustainable fibres which have all been optimised for the handful of verticals that we focus on. Since the interest in what we do is only increasing as people become more cognisant of the necessity of our products and ways of thinking, so the opportunities to work with new partners and to expand will only increase.
7. How has the ETF Partners support helped shape the business?
We see ETF Partners as part of the team. Their financial support has been vital in the growth and expansion of the business — it was a critical milestone in enabling the company to move to a much larger scale and to ultimately add consumer products and automotive customers to our impressive list of transportation and footwear brands. They make connections, open doors, and bring vital insight.
Tough times truly reveal the true colours of those you associate with, and I am very pleased to say that during these incredibly difficult past 18 months, ETF’s presence has merely served to reinforce what a great bunch of people they are. They bring appropriate challenges to our team when needed and provide an invaluably different perspective to our processes.
As a leader in the sustainability space, ETF Partners has also provided masses of support as we continue to expand our innovative, environmentally friendly products to new markets. We are so proud to have them on board as strategic investors and advisors. The business really is all about the people!