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U of T student to recycle airline seats

Dec '19
Pic: University of Toronto
Pic: University of Toronto
A University of Toronto student has come up with an idea to make leather goods out of old airline seats. The student recently won a $5,000 prize for her startup idea - turning old leather airline seats into handbags, notebook covers and other items. Her proposed business will use 64 tonnes of old leather, donated by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

Lynne Corvaglia, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, plans to employ female artisans in Costa Rica in the project. She plans to launch her startup, called S.O.S. Leather, while doing an extended co-op placement at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) through U of T Scarborough’s international development studies programme.

Her proposed business will use 64 tons of leather donated to CATIE in the name of sustainability by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which decided to remove the leather seats from its fleet of about 750 Boeing 737s to reduce weight.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Corvaglia after winning a recent pitch competition hosted by The Hub, a startup accelerator at U of T Scarborough. “This all came to fruition in a relatively short time.”

It was only shortly after CATIE had turned over the leather task to her sustainability group at the centre that Corvaglia learned of a pitch competition at The Hub, one of several U of T campus-linked accelerators. The Cambridge, Ont, native said her startup project is the culmination of years of international work, starting with a volunteer trip to India in Grade 8, fundraising for an all-girls school in Kenya during high school, and a full-time post with the global ME to WE charity while attending university.

Some 25 student or recent alumni teams competed for $30,000 in prize money offered by The Hub. Each team leader gave a six-minute pitch to eight judges, led by Gray Graffam, director of The Hub. The eight successful pitches involved everything from an app for buying cannabis to making organic drinking straws.

“These are people who have put some effort into what they’re doing,” said Graffam. “They've spent time looking at the competitive landscape and the market opportunity, and they've done a business plan.”

Many of the judges were both entrepreneurs and regular coaches at The Hub, which in the past seven years has helped create more than 130 start-ups valued at over $27 million. One of them was Melanie Ratnam, an alumna and previous winner who has created a smart platform for procuring scientific lab supplies.

Fellow judge Donovan Dill, a former strategic adviser at The Hub who now teaches at Seneca College, said Corvaglia was the unanimous choice for grand prize, but that the scores were close. “This year was probably the highest-quality year for pitches,” he said.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (SV)

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December 2019

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