Material Matter: Pirarucu Fish Leather from Brazil

A21: Practice #1- an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable project from Osklen A21: Practice #1- an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable project from Osklen A21: Practice #1- an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable project from Osklen

By Brittany DiBenedetto | Material Matter
Posted Aug 23, 2016

We have seen many variations of leather over time, including the use of fish skin. Now these fish are becoming multi-purposed, contributing not only to the surrounding ecosystem but the communities as well.

As technology advances, many alternatives to traditional leather are becoming available to consumers. One in particular can be found swimming deep within Brazil’s Amazon rainforest: pirarucu are the largest fish in the Amazon and one of the main feeding sources for the local population, including several indigenous tribes. Usually their skin would be discarded after consumption but Brazilian fashion brand Osklen generated a new purpose for these scraps.

Osklen is a pioneer of sustainable luxury with a lifestyle brand that melds local and global, and organic and technological. The brand has been working with fish skin since 2007 in collaboration with Instituto-E, a nonprofit sustainable development organization supported by Osklen. When an innovative tannery was able to deliver a high quality Pirarucu skin, Osklen became the first fashion brand in the world to use the material.

Today, Osklen works with more than one thousand fishermen that are safely farming the Pirarucu in reservoirs. Nina Almeida Braga, director of Instituto-E, was able to inform me that,

“Every six months these fishermen are audited to check if they are following the environmental rules and not using hormones or any genetic modifications to accelerate the fish’s life cycle. And… these fishermen receive permanent training that enables them to improve not only their practice but also improve their life conditions.”

This partnership is protecting the species from becoming extinct and supports the local communities by creating jobs and supplemental income.

The skin is produced and manufactured in Brazil with little negative impact. The product lasts many years, is organic, and biodegradable without the use of heavy pollutants like Chromium. In addition, these fish are not killed to satisfy the fashion industries demands, they are primarily a food source. The reusing of their skin decreases the amount of biological waste in the environment while benefiting Brazil’s economy. The entire process is done in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way.

There are added values that come with purchasing a Pirarucu bag or accessory. Luxury is not a matter of quantity but the quality that the products behold. Osklen’s goal with this work is to show how possible, and desirable, it is to transform the fashion industry into a more sustainable one with this triple bottom line initiative. An ethical loop for a fish that, as Braga shares, is steeped in mythical history-

Some of [the indigenous tribes] believe that Pirarucu was the name of a very brave Indian warrior from the tribe Nala, who used all his strength to do irresponsible acts and was mean to everybody. To punish him, the Gods transformed him into this fish with a flat head because while he was trying to run away from the flood created by the Divinities a big tree felt over his head.

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