Kenya’s fashion industry in the future will all be about fish skin. For many in Kenya’s north rift valley of Kitale, fish is a culinary delight. When the most desired parts of the fish are sold off, the rest is wasted.
A local foods factory in Kitale is turning the wasted fish skin into leather. Victorian Foods works with roughly 300 fishermen from Lake Turkana in Kenya’s north, who provide it with Nile perch.
The fish skin is put in a tannery machine after its scales are removed and soaked for an hour.
They add banana extract to remove fish odour and salt to strengthen the fiber. It is then soaked for a further eight hours.
“Fish leather is considered exotic leather, like reptile leather, and you know the reptiles are endangered. We have crocodile leather or snake leather which is endangered, but fish leather, it’s a good alternative to that. You don’t require “CITES”, you know, the permit that you use to export the leather for endangered animal species, you don’t need that. So I think very soon, as it gains popularity, there is going to be a lot of demand for it in the market”, said James Ambani, CEO of Victoria Foods.
Victorian Foods has been working with the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization as part of its Blue Initiative. It aims to add value and increase employment in the fishing industry.
Jamil Walji is head of JW Coutour. She was challenged by the global organization to create garments for a show that was recently held in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
“I was inspired actually to create garments with it, infuse our local fabric, the leso, together with the fish skin and the European materials. I wanted to bring out a combination that has never been done before, to bring out a totally new image and a new look to how we look at leather products”, Walji said.
Victorian Foods said the fish skin leather has been used to make shoes, jackets, handbags and purses.
The company also said there’s growing interest from the automobile industry to use fish leather for car interior decor.