The most SHOCKING thing I discovered in Iceland!

Girl floating in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland where Fish Leather is made

Slimy, smelly, dead, fishy, carcass….does any of that sound appealing? Nope, didn’t think so! Guess what? There are people out there that actually have taken all of these icky things and transformed them into something (I thought was) pretty amazing…Fish Leather! I was so pleased to learn fish skin could be developed into a durable, sustainable and desirable (and NOT STINKY) textile!

June of 2018, I took my first (and so far only) trip to Iceland. I discovered Fish Leather hanging out at a gift shop in Reykjavik. The sign read “Spotted Catfish/Wolffish.” I was like…wait a minute…let me read that again.

Turns out, they were legit fish skins dyed and treated into a beautiful leather material. Many designers and artists use this material in making a wide range of accessories from jewelry to cufflinks, shoes, wallets and even home goods. Discovering new textiles and learning new ways the textile industry is working to improve sustainability really makes me happy!

Fun Fact: I’m totally a textile nerd

Curious, I dug a bit deeper to uncover more details of this fascinating new textile. It’s been around since the early 90s. In the area of Skagafjorour, the town of Sauoarkrokur is home to the ONLY fish tannery in Europe, Atlantic Leather. Unfortunately, Atlantic Leather was closed at the time we were passing through. If you can, plan 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).

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 are the only Fish Leather tannery in all of Europe.

Fish Leather laid out on a table from a shop in Iceland.

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 since they start with a by-product of the food industry, and use renewable geothermal energy in the production process. As a bonus, Fish Leather requires less chemicals to produce since hair does not need to be removed before dying (like that of cow leather). Scales are sometimes removed, but without the use of chemicals.

Although not completely eco-friendly, using skins from non-endangered fish species caught for food is a GREAT nod to sustainability. Mammals raised for food create A LOT more waste than fish do (read more about sustainability practices here). All in all, if you have to have leather, Fish Leather is a win for me.

I left Iceland with 3 fish leather skins that now serve as a bit of decoration on top of a dresser. I originally thought I’d make something with them but this Fish Leather is just too pretty to cut!

Want some Fish Leather of your own? Check out the read more section below with some links to purchase Fish Leather.

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