Muirhead has complete control of the supply chain

By Archie Browning, Sales Director at Muirhead

Muirhead’s end-to-end vertical integration means many benefits for global aviation and the passenger transport sector. 

When our founder, Andrew Muirhead, began manufacturing leather in 1840, it’s unlikely he ever envisaged a day would come when hides tanned in his own Scottish tannery would be transported to China and transformed into high quality seat covers in a world-class factory bearing the Muirhead name. 

The launch of Muirhead’s ‘cut and sew’ service - coupled with the creation of our new seat cover design and production facilities in Glasgow, UK and Guangzhou, China - is the latest example of our cutting-edge innovations. Ownership of our end-to-end vertical control process is today enabling Muirhead to deliver the highest quality, most consistent and durable leather dress covers with shorter lead times and increased efficiencies to many of the world’s largest aviation brands. 

There’s no place like home for high quality hides 

‘Vertical Control’ is a relative term used across many industries, but here at Muirhead, vertical control starts with how we source our hides. 99% of our hides come from the UK and Ireland, usually from within 400 miles of our tannery. We have built close relationships with local cattle farmers and abattoirs, allowing us to source directly from those that operate with the highest possible standards.  

Obviously, hide quality varies significantly across different parts of the world, but we are fortunate that Northern European breeds are among the best in the world - not only in terms of size, shape, and condition but, most importantly, in the high standards of animal welfare and hide traceability that exists here today. Our commitment to sustainability and traceability means we can today trace a single hide all the way from the farm and the abattoir, where it was acquired as a by-product of the meat industry, through to the finished seat cover aboard a specific aircraft.  

It’s our tannery that makes Muirhead unique 

What makes full end-to-end vertical control possible here at Muirhead and unique in our market is that every piece of finished leather we produce has been tanned in our own, family-owned tannery. Many UK and Europe-based leather suppliers buy their hides overseas - these are shipped into Europe from as far as South America, already tanned. The issue with buying pre-tanned leather is that the physical properties of the leather are often already firmly defined during the preparation phase – and so the potential end uses for imported leather are often limited. In contrast, by controlling the tanning process here at Muirhead, our technicians can begin expertly crafting the leather early in the process to build in a high degree of flexibility that guarantees our final leather is perfect for its end use. 

This also means that we can dictate the type of hides we want to put into our leather products, and how we want a particular hide to be tanned, finished, and treated - to maximise the finished quality. Again, this high level of control throughout the tanning process makes Muirhead unique in the sector.  

Consistency and durability are what drive us 

This level of vertical control also brings many benefits to our aviation and passenger transport customers but is perhaps best encapsulated in the unrivalled consistency of our finished leather. Because we carefully control hide sourcing, the tanning process and finishing techniques, we offer far greater consistency across all our leather ranges. Quality and consistency are pivotal to ensure the right passenger experience and performance in service is delivered, whether the leather ends up in a world-class premium class cabin or that of a high-volume low-cost carrier.   

But even more important than consistency is the actual performance and durability of Muirhead. Real leather is more expensive to specify than other textiles, but the big advantage of Muirhead’s highly technical aviation leather is that it will last a very long time in service. That’s why we offer an industry-leading seven-year warranty on our aviation leathers, with many carriers reporting that they fly Muirhead leather for 10 years or more.  

This industry-leading level of durability not only dramatically cuts the regularity, and associated costs, of seat refurbishment programmes, but also ensures aircraft remain in active service for longer - helping deliver higher margins for airlines. It is reasonable to suggest that with such a long service life, airlines will actually use half as much leather in their seating as they would other materials, so the long-term cost of using natural leather is relatively low compared to using less durable materials.  

And what becomes of those old leather seat covers, you may ask? Another Muirhead innovation sees the trialling of a new take-back scheme, whereby covers that reach the end of their usable life is being repatriated to our tannery in Scotland. They are then processed through our unique Thermal Energy Plant to reclaim energy for the production of new leather.   

Full control drives new product development and innovation 

Ownership of this full end-to-end process – and the fact that as a seventh-generation family-owned business Muirhead continually re-invests its profits back into its business - puts Muirhead in a position to be continually innovating. In recent years, these re-investments have enabled us to develop important new products to meet the global aviation sector’s ever-changing needs. For instance, LightCore™ - our full-substance leather that is 33% lighter than standard leather - has been very well received by airlines as it allows them to lower cabin weights and reduce both their fuel usage and carbon footprint. 

We were also quick to bring to market a new anti-bacterial, anti-viral product - ActiveHygiene Leather – which enabled airlines to proactively respond to increased sensitivity around germs and viral bacteria by airline passengers.  

Another long-term investment that further enhances Muirhead’s ability to innovate and develop exciting new products rapidly has seen the installation of a £250,000 state-of-the-art large-scale flammability testing facility on their tannery site in Scotland. This Fire Resistance Lab facility will enable Muirhead to rapidly fire test all new leather products and full seat configurations on-site.  

Cut and sew service creates genuine one-stop-shop for airline seat covers 

Our recently launched ‘cut and sew’, and full aviation seat cover design and production service takes our commitment to innovation and improved sustainability one important stage further.  
As the aviation leather experts, we have long felt that Muirhead was best placed to support airlines and the entire passenger transport sector in creating seat covers that deliver unbeatable value and performance as part of a highly sustainable process. Our end-to-end service takes airlines and operators all the way from design concept through to the manufacture of fully finished, high performance luxury seat covers that deliver business benefits never before seen in our sector.  

Those benefits range from access to a streamlined supply chain, improved accountability during the entire design and development process, better utilisation of available leather, and improved efficiencies - all of which combine to deliver an even stronger sustainability story.  

The global aviation industry is currently navigating its way through some disruptive times, and Muirhead is determined to continue delivering high-quality products and innovative services that will support airlines today, tomorrow, and for many years into the future.   

It's interesting to note that when Andrew Muirhead first began tanning leather in Scotland way back in 1840, aviation didn’t even exist. Yet today, his family-run company is actively aligning itself with global aviation brands seeking innovation, quality, consistency, performance, and sustainability from their leather.  

Discover more about our sustainable tanning expertise.