Accelerate Partners with MIT to Find Solutions to Leather Industry Challenges

July 15, 2019

A group of people collaborating in a workspace

Seven leather manufacturers from Italy and Spain paid a visit to Wentworth to discuss industry opportunities and challenges as part of a ThinkTank workshop on July 11.

Wentworth’s Accelerate partnered with Kathleen Kennedy and Yuly Fuentes-Medel from MIT for the ThinkTank event entitled “Digital Fabrication Changes Industry.” The workshop was intended to create interesting connection points to accomplished individuals in the ecosystem, inviting students, faculty, and industry professionals to the Center for Engineering, Innovation and Sciences (CEIS).

After hearing from the leather manufacturers, participants brainstormed ideas to solve challenges facing the industry, including less demand for leather products, the ethical nature of leather’s animal-based origins, labor costs, and small relative dimensions of companies when compared to customers and suppliers.

Joseph Schnackertz, a Business Management student at Wentworth, and his group came up with an idea to clone leather. He said by cloning leather waste from the meat industry, less animals would be killed.

“We are cloning leather, but not animals themselves,” he said. “We don’t need to test cattle.”

Cecilia Nicolini, a post-masters research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School noted that plastic is not biodegradable, unlike leather waste that is not treated with chemicals.

Her group proposed that leather waste can be made into a multitude of products like flowerpots, reusable supermarket bags, and roofs and tents, noting that leather produces a strong thermal insulation effect.

“You use the product a couple of times then throw it away and it is decomposable,” said Nicolini.

Participants were encouraged to visualize their ideas with the tools (including pipe cleaners, straws, and other crafting materials) in an Accelerate maker box to encourage hands-on collaboration among teams.

Nicolini said she knew nothing about leather, manufacturing, or design before the ThinkTank workshop. She admires ThinkTank’s ability to spark creativity among people with different perspectives.

“We bring new ideas, but also we leave with new ideas. It is a win-win for everyone,” she said.

Antonella Cavallero’s group proposed taking leather products to a “super-high level.” Cavallero is the innovation and communication manager at Spin360, a company who has partnered with Accelerate.

They imagined a “magic leather jacket” with the ability to change color to mimic the surrounding environment, adapting to different temperatures, using the power generated by user movement to recharge the jacket, and connecting a GPS.

Ideas were collected by the guest manufacturers and will be taken under advisement. View photos from the event below or on our Flickr page. 

-- Yunjia Hou

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