E-Leather takes off

‘It’s around £7,000 cheaper to trim a coach in E-leather than traditional leather and you can’t tell the difference when it’s new,’ said Carl Watkins, Sales Manager for E-Leather, adding, ‘you can after 18 months because the E-Leather stays better for longer. E-Leather matures over time and loses its sheen, whereas leather gets shinier.’

The company actually quotes ten principal advantages for E-Leather over other trim materials and cost isn’t one of them, although it is comparable with moquette and significantly cheaper than traditional leather. The advantages it does claim are eco friendliness, manufacture from natural leather fibre, product consistency, easy care, hygienic, scuff resistant, low weight, high performance, high durability and high cutting yield, some of which attributes I will be returning to.

E-Leather is a man made product made from discarded leather offcuts and the parts of the cow’s hide left over or not used in the manufacture of what is generally referred to as ‘real leather’. CEO, Chris McBean, who showed me round, explained that each cow can generate as great an area of E-Leather as it does leather.

Using a patented process carried out at the company’s Peterborough plant, the raw material is cut and the individual fibres are then separated before being stored in silos. They are then recombined using water jet technology to link the fibres without adhesive. It is a process for which E-Leather has three global patents. When it is finished the product comes out as a roll 1. 4m wide and up to 500m long. The material moves to a finishing area where it is textured and the final colouring processes are undertaken. The colour is added using an organic pigment rather than a dye which ensures colour saturation and increases fade resistance. As with traditional leather, the finishing process sees the grain and surface coating applied using a transfer process. Around 20 subtly different grain styles can be produced.

The production process is water intensive but 95% of that used is recycled for further use. Ecological issues are taken seriously throughout the process. At the end the waste material from the process goes for use as fuel blocks. Overall, the environmental impact is positive because the production process uses materials that would otherwise be waste and would end up as landfill.


Waste leather shreddings go into the process like this


The shreddings emerge from the process as separated fibres

Within the E-Leather is a core material that keeps it in shape, by controlling the amount of stretch. It can be stretched as necessary during the trimming process, though only across the width, not the length. Trimmers are perfectly happy to work with it and because it is flexible and there is no repeat pattern as there is with moquette, there is minimal wastage in the trimming process.

A useful aspect of the material is that it can be pre-laminated. Instead of cutting out the E-Leather and the seat foam separately for an application, the foam can be pre-laminated to the E-Leather so that only one cut is required.

Its flexibility is one of the material’s key advantages. New uses are being found for E-Leather all of the time, but examples I was shown demonstrate a range of applications including heavy duty safety boots and stationery file covers. At the Peterborough headquarters there are armchairs and other items of furniture trimmed in it; there is even an office cat created in it; though I didn’t see any E-Leather mice. The principal use is commercial upholstery and transport related applications including automotive, aviation, rail and marine as well as the bus and coach industry. Over 80% of sales are outside the UK.

For the bus and coach sector, the product satisfies EC95/28:2006 the EC directive regarding type approval and it also meet s R118, the worldwide fire retardency standard.

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