RICHMOND -- On a weekday morning at the Richmond Pick-n-Pull, with his cart and an assistant in tow, Aaron Parrish can't wait to get his hands on some good old leather.
For Parrish, walking down the rows of salvage vehicles is like walking down a hall of history -- people once rode and celebrated their lives in these cars. He's thrilled about the hunt -- several cars at the chain auto recycler await Parrish's anticipated discovery and his "you'll never know what you might find" mantra.
And it turns out, there are lots of good finds this day. Parrish and his assistant, David Miller-Hershon, set their trained eyes on top-notch leather from some of the finest cars in stock -- BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar and Lincoln. Before long, Parrish sets his eyes on a 1999 Cadillac Seville and the new possibilities its leather holds.
"It's like a new find every time," said Parrish, a self-proclaimed "car nut" since childhood. "We go to junkyards often and it's like we're urban mining, hunting for leather that's still in great condition. It may be weathered but it's basically telling the story of the leather."
The Pleasant Hill resident partnered with his friend Tim Bogan last year to establish R3DNA, a sustainable design company that produces reclaimed leather products using materials recovered from salvaged luxury vehicles. Aged leather extracted from the cars experience new life again as messenger bags, backpacks and laptop and tablet sleeves.
Parrish and Bogan, also a lifelong car enthusiast, say they're not just resurrecting old leather -- they're doing their part to save the planet.
"We want people to know there's a responsible alternative to using old leather," Parrish said. "We like to take these car seats that would otherwise end up in a landfill."
Parrish and Miller-Hershon gravitate toward a vehicle's back seat with its one continuous piece of leather and all its possibilities. They take out their box cutters and get to work, cutting and skinning the seats of the Cadillac. Then they write down the car's make, model and year.
"It's important to know where the car came from. That's the DNA of the leather product," Parrish said. "This leather is history in the making."
"We should use as much of it as we can," said Miller-Hershon. "It's kind of cool we can extend its life longer."
Aside from repurposing the leather to make new products, Parrish said that the stories of the leather's past are forever embedded in the leather's DNA.
"We're preserving the history that's wrapped up in everything we make," said Parrish. "It's lived its life as a car. The leather will now live the rest of its life as something new."
After wrapping and strapping up the old leather and placing it on the cart, the guys move on to another row of vehicles, searching for the next great find.
"Every piece we get has a different story, a different past," Miller-Hershon said. "It may have been a family car, a commuter car. We can see what kind of life the car had."
They also look into the condition of the leather, from how worn it is to the unique patterns that can be highlighted in its new life as messenger bag, for instance.
The cognac brown leather on the back seat of a 1991 Cadillac DeVille impresses Parrish.
"This is the kind of leather we get excited about because it makes good products," he said.
R3DNA has partnered with San Francisco-based Timbuk2 since last year, designing and creating leather products all made in the United States. Bogan and Parrish conducted research to find that Pick-n-Pull auto recycler conducts eco-friendly business practices which matches R3DNA's philosophy.
Bogan said each piece of leather is handled with care as it's cleaned, treated and prepared for life that will serve a new purpose.
As young fathers raising their families, Bogan and Parrish wish to create a safer planet for their children by diverting tonnage from landfills, and taking part in the rebirth of practical products people use daily, said Bogan.
"The sooner we get people aware about what we're doing, the better," said Bogan. "The more people we get involved in our mission, the better we can all serve our planet."
For more information about R3DNA and recycled leather products, visit www.r3dna.com.