Ghana Fashion Design Week

The bag’s leather had an unusual scaly pattern, almost reptilian but not quite. This is fish skin leather, an ancient yet modern material used as an alternative resource for clothes and fashion accessories.

How can fish skin grace the catwalks of European fashion capitals? The answer is on finding ways towards sustainability.

The fashion industry is the second major polluting sector in the world. Increasing demand for cow leather means an upward increase of CO2 emissions with the tanning process further contributing to the release of pollutants. Water consumption, use of pesticides, chemicals, and petroleum in the production of textiles all adversely affect the environment.

Additionally, synthetic fibers release significant amounts of micro plastic in the water systems, affecting the entire food chains, debilitating communities and livelihoods, and contaminating crops.

These worrisome environmental practices in the fashion industry pushed a number of fashion innovators to look into more sustainable supply of alternative leather.

According to FAO, the world needs 50 percent more food by 2050 to meet the demand of the population. Fish supplies account for about 17 percent of animal protein and according to fisheries experts, one ton of fish fillets produces an estimated 40 kilos of discarded skin.

While fish leftovers become fishmeal for animals or simply thrown away, the old practice of turning fish skin into leather has taken a popular turn. Fish skins have delicate layered patterns that are unique in the natural world, they are also flexible, and can be sustainable sources and alternatives to cow and other types of leather.

Under the FAO’s Technical Cooperation Programme, the organization looks into innovative areas across the region, including sectors such as fish skin that have potential as sources of employment and income generation.

For example in Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world in the Kenyan-Ethiopian borders, nomadic people living in the area fish for Nile perch. A fish processing company, which FAO supports, employs 300 locals to catch and process the fish. The unused fish skin become fish leather.

The organization’s projects focus on strategic objectives to make an imprint on the lives of the people. Kenya’s aquaculture project as an example looks into finding ways to contribute towards the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

With innovative ways of finding other sources of potentials in reducing rural poverty and increasing the resilience of livelihoods, such as turning fish waste into fish leather, FAO ensures that Africa will be on track towards Zero Hunger.

An article by Suela Krifsa, Technical Cooperation Officer, FAO Regional Office for Africa 

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