FishSkin: Sustainability, Craft and Material Innovation and its application to Fashion Higher Education

Elisa Palomino 

Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, UK

Lotta Rahme

Independent tanner, Sigtuna, Sweden.

The use of fish skin is an ancient tradition in Arctic societies along rivers and coasts. There is evidence of fish skin leather production in Scandinavia, Alaska, Hokkaido, Japan, northeast China and Siberia.

This research looks at how the use of fish skin by aboriginal Arctic people has recently been assimilated as an innovative sustainable material for fashion due to their low environmental impact. Fish skins are sourced from the food industry, using waste, applying the principle of circular economy. The research is a material-based exploration looking at the role of fish skin in sustainable design practice, developing models of socially responsive design innovation and knowledge transfer.

The project looks at the geographical use of fish skin material in circumpolar cultures. The aim is to explore how fish skin artisanship through participatory design practices can explore fashion for social cohesion through the partnership of tradition with contemporary design from higher education students. There is also a desire for continuing past technologies as well as for securing the transferral of indigenous knowledge systems related to fishskin processing.

The presentation describes the workshops created by the researcher developing methods of tanning fish skin and producing fish skin material samples in areas where traditionally fish skin was developed, where experienced fish skin craftspeople have passed down the endangered Arctic fish skin craft to the next generation of students from universities in the circumpolar area (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Hokkaido, Japan, northeast China and Alaska) as part of a sustainable fashion higher education program. The methods of sustainable material engagement and the full immersive experience through a teaching-in-the field approach are recommended as transferable skills for educational models. The workshops demonstrate how relevant the Indigenous fishskin knowledge -in partnership with sustainable design strategies- can connect people to their culture, communities and the environment.

FishSkin: Sustainability, Craft and Material Innovation and its application to Fashion Higher Education