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From train seat to handbag

Swatches | September 1, 2019 | By:

Made from reused leather train seats, batches five and six of the Amtrak collection of recycled leather goods include handbags, cardholders, sunglass cases, weekenders, totes, travel kits and backpacks. Photo: People for Urban Progress.

Amtrak’s Acela Express trains, which offer comfort and upscale amenities for passengers along the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., were in need of a makeover. The redesign of the interiors, which began in 2018, included replacing 6,080 leather seats from 100 train cars. 

The company didn’t want to waste the leather, so it reached out to People for Urban Progress (PUP), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops products that combine good design and civic sustainability, to collaborate on the Amtrak collection of travel gear.

The seats were taken to Atlanta to be disassembled, then transferred to Indianapolis to remove foam. Once PUP got the leather, the organization realized it would have to deal with worn spots and holes as it worked the material, and also figure out a sustainable way to clean the leather, ultimately using a dry cleaner that uses an eco-friendly process. 

Once the seams were removed and the leather was cleaned, the PUP designers prototyped different ideas, looking at bits and pieces of leather to transform into smart, chic bags.

PUP is launching the recycled leather products in small batch releases of 150 items. The first three products came out in October 2018. The group estimates that over the course of 10 to 12 months, it will create approximately 2,500 bags. For information, visit

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