The Iceland-based designer Sruli Recht has been making otherworldly products for many years before ECCO Leather invited him to bring his science fiction mind to its innovation labs. We already wrote about APPARITION, the translucent leather that Recht created there. Yesterday, ECCO Leather unveiled a new material that Recht developed with its team, Dyneema® Bonded Leather. This new fabric was developed by bonding leather to a super strong technical layer, which basically keeps the look of leather while making it feather weight and unbreakable. The biggest problem of leather is that it’s heavy, which makes long leather jackets and duffle bags cumbersome. Dyneema® Bonded Leather solves this problem. We spoke with Recht about the process of creating this ground-breaking material. Below are his answers, idiosyncratically true to form.
1) How did the idea for Dyneema® Leather come up?
It all began with a pair of gloves in a skiing store in Steamboat, Colorado early 2014. These gloves didn’t’ fit in this place… they were a-temporal. It’s like they had been designed in an alternate timeline and somehow fell back into our own. I traced the designer, couldn’t help myself. Found him, demanded friendship, and being Canadian, he obliged my advances.
Conroy Nachtigall had been designing with Arc’teryx and Veilance up until then and we began throwing around ideas for advanced material concepts and applications, trying to figure out if 3D printing is just a fad and whether it will ever be fast enough for more than just prototyping, and whether any bio-punk lab-grown material will eventuate into something.
Conroy has a giant brain and is the Baron of Bonding. The gloves I saw were… alien in their surroundings, but felt like something very similar to what I would like to have made. The leather was so very very thin, and the seaming was tight. He clearly could handle tolerances like flexible Apple products. On our soon to be regular nerding-out Skype calls he showed me this teeny fabric swatch he had managed to swipe from a rep… it was gossamer, unwoven and opaque. An ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, which according to him was at that very moment tethering an international space station together.
And we talked till the stars faded, and the dawn wind streaked the Berlin sky like the endless love we now shared for this new hope. Softly we spoke the name of this dream material, “Dyneema®.”
When I started in the creative direction role with ECCO Leather’s innovation lab it seemed like a natural fit to take this material, light, thin and strong, and bond it to the thinnest leather we could make. So, two years ago to the day of this launch, I wrote Dyneema® an email and pitched this project.
It was a… well it was not an easy project to sell to either company. The vision was apparently a little obscure, and when balanced against the development costs and lead times to a minimum viable product, and a market placement potential… You could say the response was not immediately optimistic. I heard a few times phrases like “this is not a good idea” and “don’t do it, it won’t work”. But I’ve never been all that good at doing what I’m told.
After pushing this boulder up a hill for a while, we finally got some bonding applications through in Arizona, and then a second round with enough to trial it as wearables.
Now you have to understand, these material samples were unbelievable. They also didn’t fit the conventional understanding of leather. They looked like paper – thin, light, wrinkly and matte. If you threw it in the air it floated down, unlike leather which just thuds to the floor. It was momentous. So, Flavia Bon, my senior design developer, and I went straight into prototype mode. We took the bonded leather and made an enormous duffel bag from it; something that would otherwise weigh about 5-6 kilos ended up weighing 200 grams. From this moment it was very easy to see how this material could be implemented in many ways.
So we went space-age, like the future used to be about. We got molecular, slicing the leather as thin as it would go before disintegrating, and bonding it with Dyneema®. It was inherently the same goal as we talked about in the APPARITION project. Lightness. Thinness. Strength. And when you bring those three things together in leather, you get this featherweight material. It’s the boxer of bonding, lean, tough, unbreakable.
So here we are. I can say this is one of the hardest projects I’ve had to push through, and easily the longest one. In fashion or product design, two years is an eon. A lot happens in that time. But that is how it is when you are on the material development side. What I have learned is this; ideas are quick and cheap, but manifesting them is slow and expensive.
2) Can you describe the process of making this material?
When you have access to a tannery and brains like at ECCO Leather and you mix that in with science power of DSM and Dyneema®, then you can push these otherwise titanic projects into a more manageable realm. Obviously, it’s hard not to try and do a dream project when you are presented with that opportunity.
The goal was clear – make an incredibly light, ultra-strong, and ultra-thin material, but keep it emotional, experiential, atmospheric. With any material you have worked with in the past you very quickly and usually intuitively know its limitations, and it’s obvious what you can do with leather due to its character. You have a weight to payoff ratio, the larger the bag, the heavier it gets, till the leather weighs more than what you want to put in. This new featherweight composite gets around that obstacle by keeping the aesthetic of leather and combining it with the lightness and power of a high tech material.
3) What possibilities does this new material open for designers?
This is the fun part. In the innovation lab, we obviously went first for semi-protective garments, bags and shoes, as they most clearly displayed all these properties. A material like this really just sells itself. It could be used in anything from motorcycle gear to furnishings, in anything that requires the haptics and durability of leather but the lightness that you cannot get from conventional leather. It’s a payload to lift-off ratio basically; the lighter the conventional leather, the weaker it is. Now you have a solution.
Dyneema® is fifteen times stronger than steel, and floats on water. It’s marketed as the world’s strongest, lightest fibre and has long been used to tether space stations, stop bullets and repair human ligaments. I don’t think we are going to need leather organs or life preservers, but it’s pretty straightforward to understand this in context: Leather is its own thing.
Dyneema® is its own thing. They are already super materials on their own. When combined, the final material pulls this together with the emotional power and charisma of leather. This opens up enormous possibilities for any luxury product or fashion designer.
And this is what we aimed to show in the aspirational film – this vision of travel in the future, this guy in his ultra-light and strong jacket and bag, hurtling through mountains, losing control, smacking violently before around getting himself back together and landing at the other end of wherever it is he is going to. In my mind it’s a post-climate change reality, where the only way to go is inside the earth, with garments harder than the world you live in.
Yes, this material is inspiring and the possibilities it opens up are endless. This stuff is next level.