While cow, sheep and goat leather is not a favorite commodity amongst vegans, there’s a new kind of leather that may just suit the ethical standards of animal lovers and environmentally conscious realists alike: fish leather.
A long time ago, fish leather was used by people in Iceland and other countries, as a material for durable shoes and accessories because it is incredibly strong, yet light in weight. Nowadays, it is considered an eco-luxury leather alternative due to the fact that it is sourced as a by-product of the food industry that would have been discarded after commercial fishermen take the meat, and because of the luxuriousness, versatility and strength of the leather. Although it’s quite thin, the alignment of fish skin’s fibers runs in a criss-cross pattern as opposed to the parallel pattern in mammals, making fish leather much more durable.
Ancient Material for Modern Design
Making leather from fish skins is an age-old craft historically used by many coastal cultures, now revived with contemporary tanning and dyeing methods. Native Icelanders made their shoes from wolf fish leather, and reportedly measured distances by how many pairs of shoes would be worn out walking over the path! In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, water-resistant salmon leather was used for bags, parkas, and clothing. The Hezhe ethnic tribe from northeast China was also known as the “fish leather tribe” because of their traditional fish skin dress.
However, not every fish could be used as a fish leather source but here are some of the most used and the places where it can be found:
- Salmon Leather (farm-raised, Faroe Islands)
- Wolf Fish Leather (wild-caught, Iceland)
- Cod Leather (wild-caught, Iceland)
- Tilapia Leather (farm-raised, Kenya)
- Perch Leather (farm-raised, Kenya)
- Stingray Leather (wild-caught, Thailand)
The tanning and dyeing processes used for fish is also far less aggressive to the skin and environment than that used for mammal leathers, which require strong chemical products that release gases such as hydrogen sulfide (an explosive, corrosive, and flammable gas) to strip the hairs from the hide. Since fish have no hair, this step is unnecessary. The scales may be removed, but this is never through chemical processing.
So, fish skin can either be smooth, like animal leather, or if the scales are left on, there’s a beautiful snakeskin effect. And contrary to what you may think: no, it doesn’t smell fishy!
Make no mistake: this isn’t a fully cruelty-free product. But consider this: there are 19 billion farm animals on the planet, the vast majority of these being created by us for our consumption. They are not all here ‘naturally;’ male animals are normally killed and discarded like rubbish (because they can’t make milk or be used for reproduction like females). These animals need loads of food to eat, loads of water to drink and create massive amounts of pollution through their excrement. But fish swim the oceans naturally; they don’t need us to farm food for their survival, and unlike farm animals, their presence isn’t polluting. And because more people around the world eat fish than they do beef or mutton, this industry is huge, meaning there’s a lot of potential in that wasted skin. Ultimately, given that fish skin can be dyed and tanned easily and naturally, we’d say this material is even more eco-friendly than vegan leather.
Fish Leather Care
Fish Leather requires the same care as any leather product. Spot clean with mild soap and water or use a suede brush. Use a polishing cloth on silver and gold settings. Avoid swimming in your jewelry or prolonged saturation in water (hand washing is fine).
Would you own fish leather accessories? tell us in the comments.