Fish skin leather is a sustainable alternative to cow leather or exotic leathers from endangered species. It is a natural byproduct of the seafood industry that tends to be discarded, and its use helps to reduce marine pollution while protecting healthy and productive marine ecosystems. Fish skin is seeing a surge in demand because it fosters a more zero waste or circular economy and requires less energy and resources to cultivate than conventional materials. Skins are sourced locally from nearby fisheries, and processing raw materials close to home reduces transport routes, lowers carbon footprint and promotes transparency throughout the supply chain. It also creates new job opportunities for coastal communities.

There are several companies worldwide that promote sustainable innovation within the fish and salmon leather industry. Nordic Fish Leather is the longest standing Iceland-based fish skin leather producer globally, and they source fish sustainably via Icelandic, Norwegian, and Faroe Islands fishing fleets. Their facilities run off geothermal renewable energy from volcanoes, they use natural, non-polluting dyes, and they re-use all water up to nine times in the production process, unlike the tanning horrors of cow leather.

Elisa Palomino’s project, FISHSKINLAB, aims to promote the use of sustainable fish leather and seeks to inspire, educate, and inform designers, creators, and consumers about its beauty, quality, versatility, and sustainability. The project looks at intelligent ways of using ocean food waste for the development of fashionable leather articles. Palomino is currently working with the Smithsonian Institute, along with receiving a large grant through the EU to fund her work at FISHSKINLAB.

Inversa takes fish leather a step further by using it not as a means of waste management for discarded fish skins, but as a method to manage invasive species around Florida and the Caribbean. Lionfish are an all-consuming invasive fish species, which devour up to 80% of young marine life within a month of entering a coral reef system. Founded by scuba enthusiast-friends Araav Chavda and Roy Salatino, Inversa relies on educating and encouraging marginalized fishermen in remote places to catch the lionfish. They prefer to use ‘regenerative’ to describe the material they say is environmentally responsible because it improves the planet and restores balance to reefs and rivers.

Pregnant Rihanna made the world turn its head in the famous red fish leather jacket she donned for Vogue, and the Pirarucu fish of the Amazon provide another example of how fish skin leather can help make more circular economies. A high-end brand Noa Kaeru works with, Piper & Skye, said in an interview: “As far as the pirarucu being a food source and feeding local communities and putting food on the table for the folks in the areas where it’s fished and beyond, it is not just a durable and beautiful material. It promotes circularity of the species in utilizing a material that would otherwise go to waste.”

Ecodunia is committed to creating sustainable, ethical jobs in Kenya with the Kisumu peoples, and the company works closely with their artisans to pay fair wages and provide safe working conditions. When you purchase their fish leather wallet, you don’t only receive a unique sustainable accessory—you also support a community of skilled artisans. Their fish leather success story is an example of how fish leather can be used to create a sustainable fashion industry that supports local communities.