What is Fish Leather: Who knew? We did

Our Col de Mar signature tilapia fish leather is an eco-friendly leather made from fish skins that are discarded by the seafood industry after harvesting the edible protein for human consumption. We utilize a farm raised, renewable and sustainable natural resource.

Fish are an important natural resource as they provide food for people around the world. Fish populations that are managed carefully are considered a natural resource because they reproduce. With a natural texture and geometric pattern, the by-product of the aquaculture industry is upcycled into a distinctive, luxurious, exotic leather. Each fish leather has its own one of a kind natural pattern, no two skins are alike.

Fish leather is produced by a tanning process which transforms the proteins in the skin into a durable leather. Anything with collagen can be tanned into a leather, including fish skin. The tanning process involves the isolation of collagen, being the main leather-making protein component in fish skins or animal hides. The scales are removed prior to tanning and it is the scale pockets that give each fish hide its own unique distinctive pattern and texture.

Col de Mar Sea Leather Accessories began in 2003 as a vision to develop a unique line of small leather accessories. Founders Louis and Lisa were determined to create a unique and exclusive product for the fashion accessory marketplace. When they discovered the leather capabilities of Tilapia fish skin they realized it had all the elements they were looking for; a sustainable leather, a leather unlike anything in the market, with a beautiful three dimensional pattern.

Fish leather is stronger than other leathers…. Really?

It is a misconception that fish leather is delicate and easy to tear. Fish leather has very unique characteristics which lends itself to being more durable than other leather of the same thickness. It has a multi-directional collagen fiber, like a basket weave, giving it a tensile strength of 90 newtons. As a comparison, other leathers such as cow leather of equal thickness, have a tensile strength of between 8 and 25 newtons. Perhaps this is difficult to imagine because the skin is very thin, but it is the multi directional fibers/ layers crossing each other that give fish leather its strength. 

Of course it is Odorless and Water-resistant:

Fish leather has water resistant qualities because it is itself so rich in oil. The fish odor is removed in the early stages of tanning, which is the process of converting a skin into a leather and after it is finished, has a characteristic common odor like other leathers.

People ask: Why isn’t it more widely used and if a by-product, inexpensive?

We may ask these questions, however, it is a complex procedure. Fish leather is not nearly as available in comparison with mammal leathers, manufacturers are few and the operations are small.

The secret is to remove all the fish oils so that there is no odor. Timing is critical in the soaking stage. It is also more expensive to produce fish leather than, for example, cow leather of the same size. The small size of the leather hides requires the use of multiple leather pieces and a good design to minimize waste of the fish skin leather.

The Journey of Fish Leather : Fish leather has been around for thousands of years.

Fish leather is not a new product, but has centuries of history behind it. The principle for fish leather production was developed in Eastern Siberia along the Amur River where the Nanai culture lived, who traditionally made fish leather garments. These people were known as the Yupi Tartars - fish skin tartars.
Many cultures have a rich history of working with fish leather. The Egyptians are known to have made leather out of fish thousands of years ago as well as northern Indians, using fish leather as clothing, shoes and boots, lining the inside with grasses for padding. Icelanders, descendants of the Vikings, Scottish and Irish also used fish skin.

Skins of rays and sharks were used in the sixteenth century for covering weapons and blades of knives. The eighteenth century produced fish leather as luxury upholstery material, perfume bottles, powder boxes and cases and during the Art Deco period of 1920 to 1939 it was popular for handbags, cigarette boxes and furniture. As colonialism and assimilation occurred in the 20th century, the practice of making fish leather faded. Handmade fish skin boots, shoes and clothing was replaced by rubber boots and factory-made clothing and fish skin leather slipped away as well as the knowledge of how to produce it.

Today, local artisans and designers are once again using fish leather in their designs, from shoes to handbags to a salmon skin lined auto interior. Sustainability-minded initiatives and companies are developing an emerging fish skin industry with a research project funded by the European Union to discover ways of producing and using fish skin leather sustainably and increasing the use in the fashion industry. The capabilities and beauty of fish leather has created a new desire to find something new, unique, sustainable…..and beautiful.

A modern use of an ancient, centuries old resource - Fish skin leather boots and shoes, accessories and clothing.

Creative minds are finding new applications, techniques and designs for an age-old material. Fish skin leather has traveled from function to fashion. In history, because of its strength and durability, to its current fashion intrigue and allure because of its sustainability, natural textures and beautiful patterns.

There are many new artisans, small businesses and Designers, from Alaska to France, Africa to Italy, all around the world, for sustainable or economic reasons, that are emerging and working with fish skin leather. As people look for new textures and leathers, fish leather is being sought after. A family owned 3rd generation shoe maker in Europe incorporating beautiful new fish leathers into their line of boots and shoes for an incredible outcome. A mother and daughter learning to sustainably tan their own fish leather for boots, shoes and other accessories.

We began working with our tilapia fish leather almost 20 years ago. We were looking for a new material, sustainable, beautiful, different from what was showing, when we discovered our signature Col de Mar Tilapia fish leather. We were immediately intrigued and fascinated with its sustainability, look, texture, pattern. It had all the attributes we were looking for. Fish skin leather adds a natural touch and fascination to the design elements. Color, texture, and conversation, are added to the collection.

Growth, change and new designs lead us to exploring different leathers, textures and patterns over the years. Traditional leathers, luxurious beautifully embossed leathers, new technologies such as digital printed leathers, and exotic leathers opened our creative imagination and its implementations into our current, new and future designs. Our leathers are sourced from responsible and credible USA suppliers. Today we have a collection of leather accessories and handbags in compact, functional designs using a great array of luxurious and uniquely different leathers that will complement everyone’s lifestyle.

Taking care of your Fish Leather

Fish leather required the same care as any other leather product. Our suede fish leather products, the spiral and angular cases, can be hand washed with gentle soap and laid flat to dry. Do not scrub or rub. If your product gets wet, please do not dry by force: dryer, heater or sun…just lay flat at room temperature. Some croaking or bleeding may occur while washing by hand but will not affect the color saturation or appearance of your product. The glazed finish on our product will add a layer of protection to the leather. Depending on the concern, spot clean, gently wipe with a damp soft cotton cloth in the direction of the scale pockets. Do not aggressively rub. Any concerns before your cleaning, please email us at info@ColdeMar.com and we will be glad to discuss your concerns.

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