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Looptworks helps old Southwest seats take wing as stylish bags

From headrest to carry-on, upcyling takes wing

It isn't quite making a silk purse out of a sow's ear -- but it's close.

Portland, Ore.-based upcycler Looptworks has managed to turn some of the leather that used to cover the seats on Southwest Airlines aircraft into a range of luxe-looking, limited-edition, handmade accessories including duffle bags, totes, bapacks and toiletry kits.

Looptworks has been repurposing castoff materials -- mostly neoprene, leather and ballistic nylon -- into all manner of sturdy bag, valise and tote for several years now (although it started with apparel, the 5-year-old company focuses on the accessories side of things), but the range of beige and blue pieces crafted from Southwest's castoff seat covers closes the loop in such a delightfully simple way it can't help but raise the company's profile.

We had a chance to check out pieces from the Luv Seat collection during our recent spin through the aisles of the Agenda trade show in Long Beach and came away impressed with how supple, lightweight and luxe feeling the pieces were -- especially given their provenance.

According to company reps, the airline approached the company after deciding to jettison some 80,000 seat covers en masse as part of a fleet overhaul, a move that left it with approximately 43 acres of leather. Designer Melanie Witt was tapped to create a range of pieces that not only used the material but does so in a way that cleverly incorporated the existing colorblocking. (The blue accents on both ends of the above duffle bag, for example, were part of the original seat construction.)

By Looptworks' reckoning, not having to tan and treat the leather represents a savings of some 4,000 gallons of water per bag -- the kind of information it likes to screenprint on the nylon interior lining as a way of educating consumers along the way.

(Although the Looptworks folks didn't mention the leather side of the equation, we started crunching the numbers and, based on an average of 55 square feet of leather per hide, if the company ends up upcycling all of those 43 acres of leather, they have the eternal thanks of some 34,056 cows.)

Oh, and since this is probably about the point where you're getting skeeved out at the notion of carrying a backpack that once hosted the backside of a frequent flier, rest assured Looptworks has closed the loop there too. The company has partnered with a local nonprofit that provides career training and employment to adults with disabilities to deconstruct the seat material and clean the leather not once but twice.

Pieces from the collection currently available for pre-order at (with delivery in six to eight weeks) include the weekender duffle bag pictured above ($225), a backpack ($250) and a convertible tote ($150) with additional pieces expected to follow.   

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