These Coach Bags Keep Leather Scraps Out of Landfills

ALISON S. COHNApril 21, 2023

Coach believes in leaving no scrap behind. The colorful patchwork shoulder bags and other covetable artisanal designs in the American leather goods house’s new Coachtopia sub-brand are literally made with scraps from the cutting-room floor. (More specifically, the small and irregular scraps of leather left on the cutting-room floor where Coach bag patterns are trimmed from hides that would normally wind up in landfills.) This different and disruptive thinking is the latest and most expansive example of the Coach’s efforts over the past three years to lower its carbon footprint, which have included incorporating embroidered and embellished upcycled vintage clothinginto ins runway collections and introducing a (Re)Loved line of refurbished vintage and recent bags.

Coachtopia is the brainchild of Coach’s creative director, Stuart Vevers, and senior vice president, global marketing, creative and sustainability, Joon Silverstein. Together, Vevers and Silverstein did a value chain audit to identify where the brand could make changes to see the biggest impact. Learning that 38 percent of the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the production of raw materials was a major unlock for them.

“We asked ourselves: how can we use waste materials to create beautiful things,” explains Silverstein, who is also the head of Coachtopia. “It was really a process of designing backwards: starting with materials that already exist and harnessing our leathercraft expertise and creativity to transform waste into valuable new materials.”

Coachtopia is about letting go of the desire for “ideal” colors and materials and instead making magic with what already exists. The Coachtopia design team and master craftsman Mauricio Alvarado—who has been at Coach for 35 years—receives a real-time inventory of the the sizes and colors of leather scraps that are being collected from factories in India and Vietnam where Coach produces its mainline bags and devises ingenious new uses for them.

The upcrafted leather techniques the team has dreamed up so far to splice leather scraps together into new produces include patchwork and woven checkerboard designs; decorative motifs like multi-color bindings, fringing, floral appliqué, and sequins; and a proprietary pressed leather made by using heat to combine the tiniest bits together into vibrant organic patterns.

And the Coachtopia mission to transform trash into treasure doesn’t stop at the cutting room. Using a patented hydroentanglement technology developed by the sustainable materials company Gen Phoenix, the team also makes a 50 percent recycled leather from tannery offcuts, scraps of leather trimmed off at the wet blue stage after hides are tanned and before they’re dyed. They’re also making colorful resin straps from industrial plastic waste and using zipper ends (the leftover part at the end of a zipper roll that’s too short to use on a bag) as another type of patchworkable material.

The Coachtopia range features three key styles: the Ergo, a smaller version of the Coach’s classic ’90s hobo; the Wavy Dinky, a shoulder bag shaped a bit like the Instagram-beloved Ettore Sottsass mirror; and a convertible belt bag. There is also a selection of small leather goods including card cases and the Wavy wallet, an adorable wallet on a crossbody strap that is just big enough to hold a lipstick. Prices ranges from $75 for a card case to $495 for the Wavy Dinky in Checkerboard, which is made with 72% upcycled materials and has a 71% lower carbon footprint than a comparable bag made with new leather.

Each Coachtopia item features an embedded NFC chip, either on the hangtag or the back of the product for small leather goods, identified by a connected cloud emblem that looks like Wifi symbol inside a cotton-candy cloud outline. If you wave your iPhone over it, a digital certificate will pop up on your screen that gives detailed information about the provenance of your item’s upcycled materials thanks to cutting-edge EON traceability technology.

In a first for major luxury brand, Coach is making Coachtopia an active and ongoing collaboration with its Gen Z customer base by adding 120 bright young creatives under 26—like climate activist, slow fashion designer, and TED speaker Maya Penn and art director/designer Sabrina Lau—to a company Slack channel where they give product feedback. The Coachtopia team incorporates learnings like their preference for exposed hardware that makes bags easier to take apart to repair or recycle. (Lau also contributed some whimsical mushroom and cherry illustrations that wound up on products.)

“Since I joined Coach, my vision for the house was to imagine a fashion world that includes everyone,” says Vevers. “The name ‘Coachtopia’ is, of course, a playful mix of our brand name and the idea of social perfection but it genuinely connects to our community-driven approach, and also a sense of optimism for the future.”

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