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March 2002

 
Innovation/SMEs Programme

LEATHER FOOTWEAR

 


Salmon-skin shoes

 
    When co-operative research produced a way of turning waste skins into high-quality leather, all that remained was to see whether it could be made commercially successful. With ongoing co-operation and a strong approach to the market, it seems that it can.

Salmon-skin shoe produced by Dario Burchelli, from the footwear manufacturer Calzaturificcio Santa Maria. Dario Cerreti is a trademark.

Salmon-skin shoe produced by Dario Burchelli, from the footwear manufacturer Calzaturificcio Santa Maria. Dario Cerreti is a trademark.

W hen the two-year CRAFT project( 1 ) to improve pickling and tanning methods for waste salmon skins finished in November 2000, the whole transnational project consortium was delighted with the results. But though this product had clear potential in an industry already familiar with crocodile and snake skins, the true market position of cuir de mer still needed to be established. Now, the picture is becoming clearer.

Hundreds of pairs of shoes were made up in the new material, in a variety of styles and colours, and samples were shown for the first time at the Italian leather fair in May 2001. "The level of interest was amazing," reports the co-ordinator, Enrique Montiel of INESCOP, the Spanish Footwear and Leather Institute. As a result, several agreements have been reached between the original SME partners and firms in Spain, Italy, France and even Chile, to take the skins into mainstream use.

"Fashion is terribly important in footwear, and changes on a four-monthly cycle," Montiel explains. "The industry has to be predictive, trying to guess what will be the 'in thing' ahead of product manufacture." There is also a degree of reactivity, and interest has been stimulated by recent resurgence in the popularity of reptile skins. It will probably take another 18 months before salmon leather finds its own niche and its true market share becomes apparent. "We have done all we can for the moment," say Montiel and the project's technical leader, his colleague Vicente Segarra. "Now we must wait to see how much uptake there is." Benefits all round

Shoe manufacturing accounts for 80% of Europe's leather. Plastics and textiles are also well-established materials, so market entry for new materials is not easy to achieve. Salmon leather is unlikely to create a large industry - it takes two fish to make the leather for just one shoe, which rules out mass production. But it enables salmon producers to extract value from waste, gives tanners a new product, and provides shoe manufacturers with a new material combining the advantages of high quality and attractive price.

There are also environmental gains. The process more than halves water consumption and offers a dramatic reduction in the use of chemicals like amines, sulphur compounds and salt, compared with traditional methods. The project has also partially addressed well-known industry problems like those associated with solvents and chromium, which are used in the general tanning process. Alternative, water-based, finishing techniques are being developed but, as Montiel says, the whole thing is consumer-driven and final appearance is the crucial factor. As the leather manufacturers involved in the project, such as Tomas Sierras of Tradelda, know, for the moment there are strong pressures to stay with established methods.

Clearly, it is too early to gauge the long-term economic benefits. But Montiel points out that the original consortium has now been joined by ten more companies eager to help in the commercialisation of its results. "If this is anything to go by, there will be plenty of interest in the market. It is a good product and will find its place." (1) Project BRST985514 - Salmon skin tanning.

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