Upcycling Ideas

Southwest Airlines' upcycling initiative provides shoes and soccer balls for Kenyan orphans

Southwest's upcycling program provides soccer balls for Kenyan orphans

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines may not fly to Africa, but that isn't stopping the local company from making a global impact. In its first-ever partnership with SOS Children's Villages USA, Southwest will upcycle 43 acres of used leather seat coverings into new products in Nairobi.

The LUV Seat initiative allows SOS Children's Villages in Kenya to provide quality soccer balls and shoes to orphans while also creating vocational, paid training opportunities for older teens. SOS USA CEO Lynn Croneberger says the partnership with Southwest helps put the last piece of care in place for orphans.

 The LUV Seat program not only opens new doors for Kenyan youth, but it also keeps thousands of pounds of leather out of landfills.

"When they leave the village, we want to help them have healthy, productive lives and be able to better their families. To set them up to be successful, they need some kind of skill."

Subtitled "repurpose with purpose," the LUV Seat program not only opens new doors for Kenyan youth, but it also keeps thousands of pounds of leather out of landfills.

"This is a ton of leather — literally, a ton," Croneberger says. "It's a resource we probably couldn't even purchase at this point."

And you can't go wrong with dropping a new soccer ball into a group of kids. "Anytime I go to visit a village, the first thing I take out is a soccer ball. It's a great way to connect with the community," she says.

In addition to serving as soccer balls and much-needed shoes, the former seat covers make stylish purses and jewelry products. "We wanted to create a second life for the leather," Southwest's Marliee McInnis says.

By replacing the leather seats with a more environmentally friendly material, Southwest will shave 600 pounds off each aircraft. "It's important to get people thinking about their commercial wastes," says Southwest's Bill Tiffany. "They think they have no options, but they really do."

Croneberger is thankful for Southwest's innovation and hopes that the airline could pave the way for other unorthodox donations. "We're thrilled to explore creative opportunities with our partners," she says. "And if we can address an environmental issue at the same time, it's even better."

Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make soccer balls
SOS Children's Villages in Kenya are enjoying the new Southwest soccer balls.  Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make soccer balls
Southwest Airlines is recycling leather upholstery into soccer balls. Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make shoes
Former Southwest Airlines seats are serving a new purpose as leather shoes. Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make soccer balls
Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make soccer balls
Southwest Airlines recycles seat leather to make shoes