As designers, we are always looking for new and interesting materials we can use in our design; materials that may inspire us or excite us in our creativity. Last week we looked at rumen leather, which is upcycled cow stomachs. This week, we want to showcase a product we used in design school, namely fish leather.
Fishskin leather has been around a long time. Salvatore Ferragamo, Shoemaker of Dreams, used fish leather before and during the hardship years of World War II when materials and supplies for shoemaking were scarce. He used sea leopard, which is a kind of fish leather, to make uppers when normal calf or kidskin wasn’t available.
Fish leather is seeing a renaissance of sorts, with emerging designers using it in their apparel and accessories collections. It’s such a hot commodity, in fact, that the Museum of Design and Applied Art in the Hönnunarsafn Íslands in Iceland presented an exhibition showcasing local designers’ work made from locally tanned fish leather.
Various species of fish leather from the Atlantic Leather company is currently available to designers. As a young designer, we had been exposed to Perch leather finished in an open scale pattern. This has a scale pattern with bits of leather around each scale insertion that produces an almost ruffled surface appearance. This leather had a lovely hand, no odor, and it stitched up quite nicely into various accessories. But the other species of fish (salmon, cod, and wolffish) that the Atlantic Leather company in Iceland have available for purchase all have distinctive looks as well. The wolffish is particularly lovely, with natural spotting over the hide.
We like the entire idea of fish leather, since it is upcycling what would normally be a waste component of the fishing industry into a quality design commodity with much greater value. We love the whole idea of Iceland’s fish leather industry, because they are largely producing the leather from their domestic resources from their fishing industry, using sustainable and green production processes to create the leather. The bulk of the fish skins which are turned into leather are Icelandic, and they use both the heated water from local geothermal sources as well as energy from domestic hydroelectric power stations to provide the power and water for the tanning process.
Designers who are looking for a commodity which allows them to have both creative expression and to focus on sustainable design might do well to look into fish leather. After all, if Ferragamo used it, there’s already a rich design tradition for designers to call upon as an inspiration.