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Fish Leather: The unconventional take on a classic material

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Leather has been rejoiced as the tactile, tough-wearing material of choice in fashion and interiors for decades. The combination of its’ durability and luxe-appeal has seen it hailed as a timeless, classic material by Designers globally.

Whilst leather from cowhide has been the biggest source, followed by the more exotic snake and ostrich leathers, fish leather remains a unique and somewhat untapped resource in such industries.


Interior Imagination talks to Atlantic Leather, one of the world’s largest fish leather suppliers. Based in Iceland, María Magnúsdóttir and Sóley Sigmarsdóttir provide an insight into the evolving popularity of the product, it’s uniqueness in comparison to other leathers and the company’s involvement in global creative initiatives that support young, emerging Designers.

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Of course leather from cowhide, among others, has been used in fashion and interior design for decades. Fish skin is a little more unconventional! How did it all come about? 

The idea came about from a former director of a tanning company, who tanned lamb skin. Eventually they questioned – why not tan leather out of fish skins? The use of fish skin in footwear was an existing tradition in Iceland, but the skin had never been made into leather before. The company tested the idea for many years, until they succeeded in creating a workable product in 2003. The material has evolved since then into softer, more luxurious leather, available in thousands of colours and textures.

What is unique about fish leather?

Although not a thick material, the strength of fish leather is enormous. The fibres of fish leathers cross one another, unlike those from hides where the fibres only cross one way. Fish leather has totally different characteristics to other skins – for example, salmon has pockets and wolf fish has natural spots.

There are many suppliers here in the UK that produce leather from cow hide for interiors in a vast variety colours and finishes. What kind of aesthetic qualities does fish leather leather have? 

The quality of fish leather is extremely high, especially because the surface is not completely flat. It is however possible for the surface to be smooth, to play with all kinds of spray surfaces, to brush the pockets open and play with metallic films, or have metallic tips in the leather. It is all about being imaginative, but you also need to be technically-sound and have the correct equipment to experiment with the leather.

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Many people would question whether the fish leather industry is ethical and environmentally-sound. What’s the approach to this at Atlantic Leather?

It is a byproduct from the fishing industry and it makes sense for a fishing nation like Iceland to use the waste. We use geothermal water and we recycle the water through the factory.

You support global creative initiatives, such as the ‘Young Designer of the Year’ – can you tell me more about what this is and how this collaboration began?

We support designers every year from all over the world, encouraging them to create using this unique leather. It is a learning process to use fish leather because you cannot cut it the same way you would cut cowhide. The shape and the wastage need to be considered when creating your own unique design. It is amazing how designers use it in so many different ways. It can be used for upholstery, shoes, bags and in the car industry.

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Do you keep abreast of the trends in fashion and interior design, and have you noticed any particular trends in fish leather over the past few seasons?

We have been selling more to the fashion industry; some of our clients’ are global high-end fashion names including Gucci and Prada.  Slowly however, more customers are approaching us from the interior design industry, with requirements for leather panels, for example. Fish Leather is becoming more and more well-known to Designers, but we know there is a much bigger market for fish leather in many other creative fields.

What trends in leather do you predict for this coming Spring/Summer?

We predict light leathers in pale pastel colours, but yet the classics like black salmon will always be very popular.

Imagery courtesy of Atlantic Leather and Low Impact

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