The round included Jaguar Land Rover, Dr. Martens and Tapestry and comes as a newly rebranded Gen Phoenix looks to bring its recycled leather to luxury fashion and car seat covers.

Aerial view of grey leather front seats in car

Carmaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), boot brand Dr. Martens and fashion group Tapestry are among the investors in an $18m round disclosed today by Gen Phoenix, which has come up with a way to produce recycled leather goods on a large scale.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly visible part of the consumer materials process and startups are working on areas as disparate as yarn made from seaweed (Keel Labs), pulling carbon from the air to create diamonds (Aether) or fungi-derived leather (Mycel Project).

UK-based Gen Phoenix’s production process takes waste leather from landfills and converts it to fibres that are then intertwined around a core using high-pressure water jets. The company claims the resulting material is more durable than conventional leather and it can be configured for clothes, shoes or seating.

Apart from Nike, the company’s biggest customers have been in public transport – airlines such as KLM, EasyJet and Delta or train operators like Amtrak or SNCF – but it is now moving into higher-grade areas. That includes seat covers for car manufacturers like JLR, which took part in the round through its InMotion Ventures unit.

“I think everybody is becoming more conscious about circularity as consumers and where products are coming from,” InMotion managing director Mike Smeed tells Global Corporate Venturing. Volvo and Tesla are just two JLR peers that have committed to switching over to vegan leather in their cars.

“Everyone is looking at sustainable options because we know customer demand for it is coming, particularly from an EV perspective,” Smeed adds. “What this product gives us and what we’re very excited about is the circularity option, so we’re looking at new materials hat we’re recycling and upcycling where possible.”

JLR hopes to become a carbon neutral company by 2039 and Amy Frascella, its materiality director for design, strategy and sustainability, has been working with Gen Phoenix for a number of months.

The company, which has just rebranded from its previous moniker of ELeather, is also aiming to forge partnerships in the world of upscale footwear and fashion, taking it into the realm of Dr Martens and Tapestry, owner of brands like Coach and Kate Spade.

“This is an exciting partnership and supports our wider strategy that focuses on the sustainability of our products, our impact on the planet and how we treat people,” said Dr. Martens chief executive Kenny Wilson in a release announcing the funding.

“A key part of this strategy is integrating more sustainable and traceable materials without compromising quality, style, comfort, or durability.

“Gen Phoenix’s tech platform will allow us to introduce materials into parts of our ranges that will help us progress our commitment for all our footwear to be made from sustainable materials and achieving net zero by 2040.”

The corporates were among the investors in a round led by venture firm Material Impact and backed by ETF Partners and Hermes GPE Environmental Innovation Fund, the two investors which supplied $97.5m for Gen Phoenix in 2018. That cash was used to build its production facility but the latest funding will also go to researching ways the company can use the waste derived from its own activities to create new materials.

“We’re thrilled to be working with a consortium of like-minded, sustainability-focused partners across a variety of sectors,” said Gen Phoenix CEO John Kennedy. “We look forward to extending our vision of circularity to new markets and providing our customers, strategic partners and end consumers with best-in-class circular materials.”

Photos courtesy of Generation Phoenix

Robert Lavine

Robert Lavine is special features editor for Global Venturing.