Prada, Dior and more look to fish skin as the new leather

Top brands are repurposing fish skins for use in their leather products

By Jamie Khoo | Published: 20 Oct 2014

Go fish!
Photo: Hanna Altmann

Discarded bits of fish skin might not sound like something you’d want flopping against your skin. In fact, it’s mostly lumped together with other unusable leftovers and ground down into food for animals... which doesn't sound terribly appealing.

But, as top brands are now looking towards using more sustainable materials in their fashion, they’re turning to an old technique of creating fish leather from these discarded skins.

It smells a little fishy, we know, but think about it – fish skins are naturally iridescent, patterned and textured. They’re also softer and all that floppiness can only mean they’re more versatile and pliable; they’re also strong. It seems an ideal, accessible solution for smaller clothing and accessories.

The Guardian reports that designers are catching on to this, including top names such as Prada, Ferragamo, Dior, and sportswear brands Nike and Puma who have begun incorporating the use of fish leather into their products.

Some brands combine pieces of fish leather with other types of leather; others “quilt” small pieces of fish leather together to form larger skins. And if you’re concerned about the smell, rest assured that skins are well soaked in chemicals to remove odours and oils so you won’t be walking around smelling of cod.

So what exactly does fish leather look like? You can already find it in fish leather iPhone or iPad covers, wallets and belts; while some more savvy designers, such as Hanna Altmann from Sweden, use fish skins in jewellery.

This growing interest among both designers and fashion students comes at an opportune time when supply for conventional leather, from calf and cows, are struggling to meet increasing global demands. Incorporating fish leather seems a sensible and perhaps more financially viable alternative. It’s also kinder – fish skins are already an oft discarded bi-product of the fishing industry and using them provide a much more compassionate alternative to the crueler methods of breeding and slaughtering animals for their skins.

As to whether or not the use of fish skins really is a more environmentally friendly option, tanneries are still ambivalent. In an interview with The Guardian, Dr Cecile Brugere, an research associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute explained, “We have to consider the environmental cost of the tanning process, the tanning might be too energy consuming to make fish leather a large-scale solution. Plus the fact that fish leather will compete with fish meal for the skins.”

Still, we’re glad to see that brands are considering alternatives and experimenting with different materials. We’re hopeful that it could, if not put a complete end to the exploitation of animals for fashion, at least minimise its harmful effects.

Related: French Connection UK to join the Angora ban


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