Interview with Silla and Vignir,
The Environmental Significance
of Fish Leather Production

Do Icelanders have a special attitude towards sustainability and the environment?

Silla: The land here is scarce and there were times when one could not be picky. It was all about surviving with what you had, and I think this is one of the main reasons why we have a tradition of a close relationship with nature.

Vignir: It is a historic part of our Icelandic identity and a tradition borne of the hardships of our harsh climate to make use of all the resources available to us, to make use of them to the extreme, turning everything into something that can be used. We even try to re-use damaged or falsely coloured skins. For example, we give away scraps from the cutting room to the local kindergarten for handicrafts.

Fish skins have been a waste product of the ever-expanding fishing industry for over a hundred years. We have found a way to give these waste products value. We do so in a way which takes advantage of the natural supply of hot water that flows underground everywhere on the island due to geothermal activity. The tanning and colouring processes require a vast amount of hot water.

Sulphur field in front of dull whitish silicium lake***
Geyser, hot water rupturing from the earth

However, it remains challenging to find the perfect way. What is sustainable and what is a threat to our nature?

Silla: Yes, and there is no simple answer. First of all fish skins were a real waste which no one thought that they had such a potential as leather.
We are often asked, whether we use chrome in the tanning process. We are always answering that we do use chrome, but we refine our waters with the most advanced technology and when cleaned they reenter the tanning process.
We are really happy though that we also found a solution to tan with mimosa, because it had been a long, difficult process to develop this vegetable tanning treatment for fish skins. The mimosa tanned leather is really special, it has this nice color from the tree.

The water is cleaned and reused after

"It is a historic part of our Icelandic identity and a tradition borne of the hardships of our harsh climate to make use of all the resources available to us, to make use of them to the extreme, turning everything into something that can be used."

What do you do with the waste water?

Silla: We have filters inside the factory that refine our water which means we are able to re-use it. We basically have a zero-energy production. The pressure of the hot water coming out of the earth generates enough electricity to run the whole factory.

Why is a sustainable production important?

Silla: It is always difficult to think about how we are polluting the environment in our everyday lives. To find a solution, to make something out of resources that would otherwise go to waste, is really amazing.

It is unbelievable that a little town like ours and a little factory like ours has found a way to create high end luxury leather that big fashion houses use for their designs, and all out of a waste-product of the fishing industry! That's really tremendously important for us. Not just for us and our town, but for the whole of Iceland.

We are the only tannery left in the country. It is essential to show that we have the techniques, resources and researchers to preserve the environment while at the same time impacting in a real way on the fashion industry. We also want to raise awareness about environmental issues in general.

100% vegetable-tanned salmon leather with bark extract from the Black Wattle tree
Silla and Vignir

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