How to Make Bags and Travel Accessories from Airline Seat Covers
In an effort to conserve fuel, Southwest Airlines wanted to replace their heavy leather airline seats with a lighter weight material. And they wanted to ensure that the journey didn't end for all that beautiful blue and tan leather. We designed a bag collection for them, including the In Flight Weekender Duffle Bag, Convertible Tote Bag, Messenger Bag, and Toiletry Case, that used the original seat design as inspiration.
A Jigsaw Puzzle That Turns into a Bag
We didn't know it at the time, but turning airline seats into bags is an incredibly difficult and fun design challenge. Our goal was to use as much of the leather as possible (so that we didn't have to throw out the remainder).
That means we had to design the pattern pieces so that they interlocked and used as much of the seat area as possible. Kind of like cutting up a jigsaw puzzle such that the pieces can be reassembled into a bag. Talk about tough!
We partner with a local non-profit that provides job training and employment for adults with barriers to employment to clean and deconstruct the seat covers
Disassembling the Seat Covers
After the leather seat covers were removed and cleaned, they were dismantled into three pieces: the headrest, the seat back and the seat bottom. The seat back is split into two pieces: the front side where the person sits, and the backside, which has the pocket for safety instruction, magazines and such. With a few exceptions, 2 airline seats make one of each bag in the collection.
Separating the Great from the Not-So-Great
You wouldn't believe the level of care, thought and creativity that went into making each of these bags. For instance, we only wanted to use the leather that was of the highest quality. That meant our small team, including our CEO, had to wade through 40 acres of leather by hand to separate the great from the not-so-great.
Making the Weekender Duffle
The duffle bag used every part of the seat in some way. The main body was made from the front side of the seat back, the side pockets from the seat-bottom, the handles from the reverse side of the seat back, and the blue accent pieces from the headrest.
Two seat backs were used to make the body of one weekender duffle.
Once in a while, we would get a seat cover that was narrower than the rest. That's because it was one of the flight attendants' seats. (Poor flight attendants!) We couldn't use the same pattern piece to make a duffle with the narrower seat cover because the pattern was wider than the seat. Eventually, we found some tricky ways of repurposing the narrow seats to make backpacks and totes so that even those wouldn't go to waste.
The two side-pockets on either end of the duffle were made from the wider tan portion of the seat bottom. The remainder of the seat bottom was used to make the front side of a tote or backpack.
The headrest found its way into quite a few of the color accents on all LUV Seat products. On the duffle, the headrest was used to make the zipper tabs, blue side panels, handle anchors, and blue Looptworks tag. The handles were wrapped in leather that comes from the reverse side of the seat back.
Making the Convertible Tote Bag
The body of the convertible tote was made entirely from the seat bottom. One seat bottom could make both the front and the back of the tote.
The handles and the zippered side panels were made from the back of the seat. More recently, we've been making totes with a solid blue back. That's because we had a lot of extra blue seat-back leather in beautiful condition, and we wanted to make sure we drew down equally on our supplies of blue and tan leather. As an aside, I personally feel the new tote more closely mimics the original seat design, with a tan and blue front, and an all blue back, just like the seat.
The headrest was again used to fill out the color accents, including the anchors, zipper tabs, clasp, and Looptworks patch. And, for the finishing touch, the front of the headrest with its iconic debossed Southwest logo was used to make the bottom of the Tote.
Want to know how we made the LUV Seat Backpack and Toiletry Case? Have ideas of what we could do with some of the smaller left-over scraps? Let us know in the comments below.
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