We have a new material coming into our line up – lionfish leather! It is sustainable, local, durable, and visually quite appealing, hitting all the pillars of our brand’s foundation. When animal skins are used on our bags it’s always for a good reason. While exploring this material created by Inversa, we were able to learn more about their sourcing and processing. Here’s what we found.
Tampa-based Inversa was started by Aarav Chavda, an engineer and avid scuba diver. He observed firsthand how the invasive lionfish (native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Red Sea) was wiping out native fish populations here in the Gulf and wanted to do something about it. Thankfully for us all he was successful and brought his ecological integrity into every step of the process.
CORAL REEF HABITAT CONSERVATION
According to an article in the Saltwater Sportsmen, adult lionfish feed primarily on fish, including prey normally targeted by commercially and recreationally important species such as grouper and snapper. In one instance, researchers found that a single lionfish on a coral reef could reduce recruitment of native reef fish by an astounding 79 percent.
In addition to competing with native species for forage, lionfish can decimate populations of important herbivore species such as parrotfish that help control algae on coral reefs. Unchecked algae growth can further impact reefs already stressed by pollution, disease, sedimentation and climate change, according to NOAA.
At the same time, female lionfish release 25,000 eggs every few days, which means their populations grow exponentially.
Inversa relies on education and encouraging largely poor fishermen and women in often remote places to catch lionfish. They purchase directly from these independent fishers wherever lionfish is non-native – Florida, Mexico, Belize, and Puerto Rico to name a few. This supply chain adds a positive social impact by offering small fishing coops and individual divers a stable compensation and livelihood with a pay scale only second to lobster.
“We’re really sort of empowering the consumer and fashion by doing something for the planet – then we empower dive communities in the fishing cooperatives all throughout the Caribbean to do something for themselves,” Chavda told The Guardian.
SUSTAINABLE & LOCAL PROCESSING
Inversa's processing of lionfish hides meets and beats the current leather sustainability standards. Chemicals used in the tanning process are all REECH certified and they have goals to switch to a completely bio-based tanning process in the future. In terms of wastewater, only 200ML per hide is produced for lionfish leather, compared to a much higher output per square inch from bovine tanning.
Right now, Inversa is buying several thousand fish a day, but it’s looking to increase this volume. These fish are brought to a central processing center in Tampa, where the fish meat is sent to local restaurants while the hides are collected and sent to a tannery in Ohio. At the tannery, the hides go through a 60-step tanning process in which the leather is dried and treated with chemicals so it’s comparable to other high-end leathers on the market. “We’re very proud that every part of the fish is used,” Chavda says. “The tannery is also focused on preserving resources; less than a cup of wastewater is produced for every hide.” - Fast Company
There are also no plastic supplements used in this leather making it zero waste and zero plastic!
TCHOUP INDUSTRIES DESIGN NOTES
The leather is very thin but durable. Its tensile strength per thickness rates quite high - apparently stronger than ostrich. It has a high texture finish and is not shiny or glossy, it looks more matte like suede.
The hide is very small and triangular – typically only 9” x 6” with holes in the center. This makes patterning tricky, so you're likely to see overlap of two or three hides spliced together on our bags. The small size also drives up the price of the leather and once a panel is created it ends up being around the same cost as our Lousiana alligator leather.
The lionfish itself is quite stunning with its bouquet of spines and zebra striping. Unfortunately this stripe pattern cannot be maintained during the tanning process and is dyed one of 8 colors for production.