Dog Leashes Made From Recycled Seat Belt Webbing, Airbags | Michigan News

By PHOEBE WALL HOWARD, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT (AP) — Everyone kept asking about dog leashes.

People had money. And they wanted to spend it.

But Jarret Schlaff and his team at Pingree Detroit didn’t have any dog leashes to sell.

Still, they wanted to explore the idea.

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The company on Livernois Avenue on the city’s west side creates handmade leather purses, drawstring leather backpacks, leather wallets, leather keychains, leather coasters and other products made with donated leather and nylon scraps from auto companies and their suppliers. The worker-owned business employs native Detroiters and military veterans. It invests in the city, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Their shoes, “The Mayor,” black sneakers that sell for $349 a pair, have been sold out for two years — ever since they were spotlighted in a March Detroit Free Press story picked up by USA Today. They sew a whole bunch of those shoes — each pair takes 2.5 days — sell out, and do it again.

“Thanks to the hundreds who joined our sneaker wait list from the last piece in USA Today, we made another 120 pairs available for preorder in November on Veterans Day and sold out the same week for all of 2022,” Schlaff told the Detroit Free Press.

Despite all the success with innovative designs and products, he continued getting requests for dog leashes and dog collars large and small and dog waste bag holders. So the team talked to a veteran who runs a junkyard and started trash digging in junked cars for seat belt material to design dog leash prototypes.

Because maybe, one day, they’d get seat belt material donated.

Patrick Patercsak learned from a news story that Pingree needed seat belts and wondered, what if his company could help?

“These guys were right in Detroit,” Patercsak said. “They were going through crashed cars in the junkyard, cutting out seat belt webbings,” he said. “I looked them up, called and didn’t hear back for about a week. Then, lo and behold, I get a call. I said, ‘I think I can help you guys.’ ”

Patercsak is a health safety and environment and facility manager at Autoliv, the world’s largest automotive safety company with an enormous facility in Auburn Hills with about 550 workers.

Few people outside the auto industry have ever heard of the global company headquartered in Sweden. Yet just about every single car owner benefits from its safety work. It manufactures the materials and ships everything to Michigan for testing.

“Autoliv is aggressively pursuing eliminating products going into landfills,” Patercsak said. “We have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

When he connected with Pingree, he explained the company’s global mission to throw away as little as possible. And Pingree explained its commitment to reuse, recycle and employ Detroiters. Patercsak drove down to the factory to see Pingree.

“Their mission in the city, employing people in the neighborhood, veterans, learning great skill sets,” he said, “it was tugging at my heartstrings.”

The co-owners of Pingree piled into a car to go see for themselves what might be available: Schlaff, 34, cofounder and CEO; Nathaniel Crawford II, 39, an Air Force veteran who makes footwear and oversees quality control, and Megan Harris, 37, lead designers and materials manager.

Anything related to safety is tested and made by Autoliv.

“They kept saying, ‘Don’t tell me you’re throwing this away,’ ” Patercsak said. “I introduced them to the advanced development leadership team. They were all really excited about it. This is leather from steering wheels, nylon, webbing, air bag material.”

Pingree is just thankful a stranger reached out to help, Crawford said.

“It’s great to work with local businesses who can help us in our mission and we can help them in theirs,” he said. “We align.”

In this case, Pingree will use donated leather from head rests to make coasters, dog leashes, bow ties and wallets. All the seat belt material is used in the three types of leashes. All material is from Autoliv — 1,500 yards of seat belts, so far, for dog leashes alone.

The Junkyard Dog leash is $29.99 and made with leather and upcycled seat belt material and stitching guaranteed for life. Made for large and small dogs.

Meanwhile, air bags are new for Pingree, which is looking to explore possible designs beyond purse and backpack linings that are currently in the works.

“Endless possibilities,” Crawford said.

Pingree has vowed to divert 25 tons of automotive materials from landfills by 2025. So far, it has they’ve calculated diverting 12 tons to date, Schlaff told the Free Press.

Pingree also gets leather from Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Lear/Eagle Ottawa and others.

“Forging new partnerships like this one to give these perfectly imperfect materials new life helps us reimagine a future where there is no such thing as ‘waste,’ ” Schlaff said. “We’re proud to be among those designing and engineering products that are solutions for a circular economy.”

For Rayne Rose, 71, the latest project hits closer to home. She has four children, 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren — and 21 grand-dogs.

“We’re very excited about using seat belting to make our junkyard dog leashes at this Detroit factory,” said Rose, lead sewer at Pingree who spent years working at drapery houses and a uniform shop, where she tailored police uniforms and affixed them with emblems and stripes.

Now the Mumford High School graduate, co-owner of the thriving upcycling business that Pingree has become, said everything with the company depends on relationships and helping one another.

“I think people should take a chance using our leashes,” Rose said. “They’re durable and sustainable.”

The whole business plan depends on the donations from local companies. Now, Pingree has a team of 10. Everything Pingree uses, from glue to polish, promises to be nontoxic. All packaging is recycled.

In May, Pingree will begin its community training program at the Livernois factory to teach neighbors and youths in ZIP code 48238 industrial sewing, shoe making and sustainable leather crafting at a low to no cost to them, Schlaff said. “We’ll begin canvassing and sending flyers to the neighborhood in a five-block radius to let them know about this free opportunity to learn sneaker making and leather crafting in April.”

Everything at Pingree thrives on new ideas, fresh approaches and relationships with strangers that bring everything together, Pingree co-owners told the Free Press.

“The upholstery leather we divert from the landfill that we get … usually wasn’t long enough for a 4- to 6-foot dog leash,” Schlaff said. “In 2019, we were doing a morning all-team ‘build,’ as we like to call them, when the solution to the dog leash design dilemma was put forth. We were exploring automotive waste streams we could turn into useful things to make this dog leash and then it just clicked. We decided to go to junkyards and cut out seat belts from cars each week before they become scrap. This was great for the prototyping phase, and during the year’s worth of testing and development, but once we launched, we could never get enough each week to meet demand, even after going to various junkyards across southeast Michigan.”

Now, the Junkyard Dog leash is sold on the Pingree Detroit website and in eight metro Detroit locations including The Detroit Shoppe at the Somerset Collection in Troy.

“Thanks to this Autoliv collaboration, we can put to good use the seat belt waste that could seem small to the largest seat belt manufacturer in North America, but is enough for our small business to grow and make our multiple social missions possible,” Schlaff said.

To tell the whole truth, Patercsak didn’t want to be mentioned or share any spotlight for this article. He said he and his company just believe in doing the right thing.

“This is about Pingree,” he said. “Their mission is inspiring, I just wanted to help them. It just so happened that our goals align. This is when 1+1=3. You get more than you ever bargained for.”

Corey Haynes, 38, a technology consultant team manager who lives in a loft on Library Street in downtown Detroit, bought a leash for his dog, Charlie.

“We’re walking around, exploring the city,” Haynes said. “I hate leashes that pull. Charlie gets excited when he sees another dog.”

Haynes, who fosters dogs and supports projects to reduce homelessness, said he was looking for a sturdy leash and spotted Pingree items being sold at a dog park and bought one. Then he actually bought the leather Pingree drawstring backpack off the man selling the leashes: Schlaff.

“To me, a leash can be a leash but the fact that they have veterans helping out and are giving them jobs and it’s truly made in Detroit, homegrown,” Haynes said. “It just stood for a lot of things I stand for. I mean, it’s certainly quality as well. When you’re looking at what can be something as a commodity as a dog leash, why not take a second to peel back the layer and look at the great work they’re doing.”

Sustainability matters, he said. “I’m sure a lot of people could make leashes but the fact that they’re making leashes from recycled parts of Detroit history and helping veterans — I appreciate what they’re doing and how they’re folding in so many layers of Detroit together.”

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