Geek-ing out over Fish Leather

Slimy, smelly, dead, fishy, carcass….does any of that sound appealing? Nope, didn’t think so! Guess what? There are tanneries out there that actually have taken all of these icky things and transformed them into something (I thought was) gosh darn amazing…Fish Leather! Would you have ever guessed fish skin could be developed into a strong, vibrant, durable (and NOT STINKY) textile? I had NO idea!

When I was in Iceland this past June, I discovered these hidden gems hanging out at a gift shop in Reykjavik (their capital and largest city). The sign read “Spotted Catfish/Wolffish.” I was like…wait a minute gurl…say whhhat???

Turns out yes, they are legit fish skins dyed and treated into a durable leather material. Many designers and artists use this material in making a wide range of accessories such as earrings, bracelets, cufflinks, wallets even hand bags, shoes and finishing pieces for clothing, hats and home goods. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE finding out about new textiles and discovering new ways the industry works. (I purchased the metallic rose gold skin on the top left in the photo above)

Follow THIS link for more beautiful handmade fish leather pieces (all photos of jewelry above nabbed from a google search)

So obviously I had to dig a bit deeper to uncover this fascinating new textile (which actually has been around since the early 90s). I found out as we made our way north we would be getting quite close to Skagafjorour where the town of Sauoarkrokur was, home to the ONLY fish tannery in Europe, Atlantic Leather. Unfortunately we were passing through during the weekend when they were closed. Had I know about this tannery I would have planned a stop at their econo-museum where you can get a behind the scenes look at the process of tanning fish skins (and other materials they produce).

I LOVE the vibrant colors they are able to achieve and the texture of all the different skins (unique to each type of fish). Atlantic Leather exclusively uses salmon, cod, wolffish or perch.  The process is eco-friendly by the way which is AWESOME! They use less-harsh chemicals since hair does not need to be removed before dying (like that of cow leather). Of course anytime chemicals are used I would not say it is 100% eco-friendly but using skins from fish caught for food is a GREAT way to help clean up the environment by eliminating additional waste that would otherwise be dumped and potentially pollute surrounding waters.

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A lot of work goes into finding the perfect recipe for producing the best quality, durable yet easy to manipulate skins. I would assume Atlantic Leather has their “recipes” on lockdown. According to an article in the Icelandic Times they started experimenting with the idea in 1989 and in 2000 was able to bring a product to market with the hand of cow leather and no smell. Something few (if any) tanneries have been able to accomplish…hence why they now are the only tannery in all of Europe.

I regretfully left Iceland without any fish leather jewelry but did take home 3 skins that now serve as a bit of decoration on top of a dresser. I originally thought I’d make something with them but now I feel they are just to pretty to cut!

BTW if you have not been to Iceland it is SOOOO worth visiting. Plane tickets are not to bad (well from Miami). Yes it was $$$$ once I got there but the beauty of it was priceless!  There is just so much I wanted to see that even with a 10 day journey I wasn’t able to do it all…Round two coming soon.

Cheers!

xo Sami

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