Leather is one of the fashion industry’s best-loved materials. Now, fish leather is re-emerging as a material alternative that not only offers a contemporary look, but is also much less damaging to the environment.
Fish skin may seem delicate, but it has been re-worked into a soft yet durable leather for hundreds of years. Traditionally used for boats, tents, wallets and clothing by natives to Iceland and Scandinavia, fish leather has recently seen a resurgence as designers seek out sustainable material alternatives.
Salmon is the most commonly used skin, making use of a by-product from the fishing industry that would otherwise be wasted. Nanai is one such tannery that is championing fish leather. It sources its skins from certified organic salmon farms in Ireland and uses non-toxic, non-chemical tanning and dyeing techniques to transform them into a durable yet fashionable material.
Launching at the end of March, luxury handbag company Aitch Aitch uses fish leather supplied by Nanai to create modern geometric-inspired accessories. Aitch Aitch Creative Director Hailey Harmon told us , “I use salmon leather specifically in all of my collections, because it’s a beautiful material. The underlying geometric structure of the scales creates a beautiful pattern on the skin, similar to snakeskin.”
It’s this similarity to exotic skins that has seen fish leather increasingly used as an alternative by a number of influential designers – from Helmut Lang to Rick Owens. Fish leather is comparable to conventional animal leather in many ways, wearing beautifully over time and sharing the same heritage-rich scent – you may not realise that the famous leather smell is produced by the tanning process not the material!
“The majority of the reactions I see when people look at and feel Aitch Aitch pieces is surprise,” says Hailey, “Most people don’t know that a leather that is so durable can actually be made from fish skin. It’s very intriguing to most people, and they seem to really be drawn to it for its aesthetic and tactile qualities.”
Who else is using fish leather?
Irish designer Bronagh Holmes designs and crafts her leather bags on a made-to-order basis at her studio in Donegal, combining traditional leathers with fish leather detailing.
Royal Blush’s pretty, powder-pink and rose gold spring accessories employ a variety of materials, all sustainably sourced.
London-based, Icelandic handbag designer Daughter of Jon – or Hedi Jónsdóttir to her friends – crafts cute, colourful card holders, purses and clutches in salmon leather.