PARIS — Tapestry Inc. — parent company of Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman — and Dr. Martens are backing an $18 million round of funding for alternative materials company Gen Phoenix.
Venture firm Material Impact, the Boston-based $200 million fund that focuses on materials innovation, and Jaguar Land Rover’s corporate venture capital arm InMotion Ventures have also joined the round.
Gen Phoenix is the new name for ELeather, which is undergoing an overarching rebrand to coincide with the cash infusion as it looks to spread its wings with new materials and grow in geographical regions.
The name invokes both next-generation innovation as well as the rebirth of materials, allows for creation of materials beyond leather and appeal to more consumer-facing brands as the company is set to introduce products for luxury goods.
The ELeather brand, which is well established in the mass transportation category, will live on under the new corporate moniker and continue to service that sector.
Founded in 2007 as ELeather, the U.K.-based company diverts leather offcuts destined for landfill, breaks them down into fibers using pressurized water and transforms that feedstock into a new engineered leather material for seating, and now shoes and handbags, among other potential uses.
The company has recovered 8,000 tons of leather waste before landfill and provides engineered leather seat covers to more than 200 airlines. “Our intent is to leverage the scale that we have today and the scale we have demonstrated over the last 15 years in other markets. We’ve got fantastic credentials and fantastic credibility based on our transportation markets, and that leverages very well and plays into the consumer space,” said chief executive officer John Kennedy.
Gen Phoenix has new materials from plant-based sources as well as other postindustrial or postconsumer waste in the pipeline. “It’s process innovation that isn’t reliant on any one ingredient, and solves for the waste challenge in a way that no other brand that we see on the market can do effectively,” said Elyse Winer, partner at Material Impact.
“Our philosophy is there’s a huge amount of excess materials and stuff that’s in the world today, and our thesis is we should be repurposing and reusing that stuff rather than building and creating new things,” said Kennedy.
Expanding into the postconsumer market, the company will start with end-of-life-cycle brand take-back programs, “particularly with these types of partners we are invested with,” said Kennedy. Notably, Dr. Martens and Tapestry’s Coach are both “very strong leather brands, so this technology and solution are of great interest to them.”
The funding round will help build out these recycling pipelines and help the brands deliver on their sustainability targets.
These are long-term commitments to change brands’ supply chains, Kennedy emphasized. “We’re not really about making a big media splash around one handbag. We’re all about driving scale, because that is how we’re going to help these brands improve their impact,” he said.
Gen Phoenix’s growth targets are “aligned with their public commitments,” he added, and the company will work as partners with the brands throughout the journey.
With Tapestry as a strategic investor there’s potential to work with other brands under their umbrella. Kennedy and Winer emphasize that the tech is quickly scalable. ELeather opened a factory outside of London in 2021 that has the capacity to make 70 million square feet of new material a year. Their first, smaller factory is now devoted to research and development of new materials.
Kennedy said the company’s experience making unglamorous but well-used bus and plane seats demonstrates the material’s durability and can transfer to consumer leather goods. It also comes down to fashion — the look and feel of a handbag or shoe has to be commercially viable.
“In order for a solution to scale or material to scale, it cannot be a performance compromise to the consumer, and it needs to be at a price point that enables scale as well. Many other next-gen materials are struggling to hit anywhere near a price point that makes it accessible to the general public,” said Kennedy. “We have demonstrated in complex global supply chains and global markets that we can compete effectively on price, performance and sustainability.”
That durability will help it overcome any resistance in the fashion market. “The look and feel is incredibly important to the brands that we are trying to reach, and this is really critical when we think about consumer luxury goods and footwear,” added Winer. “The quality is incredibly important to the consumer.”