University of Gothenburg
Bilden visar arbete i ett hantverksmässigt garveri för fiskskinn
Garvarmästare Lotta Rahme arbetar med fiskskinn i sitt garveri.
Photo: Håkan Olsen

Lotta Rahme: Traditional fish leather tanning for the fashion industry

Fish leather is a largely untapped resource that, if traditionally processed, has a very little environmental impact. In her project, Master Tanner Lotta Rahme aims to establish cooperation with designers in the fashion industry who want to use fish leather tanned with bark and unsaturated fats.

Photo: Håkan Olsen

Traditional tanning as a sustainable alternative

Today, there are few tanneries in the world that tan fish leather. However, the fish leather are treated with chromium, which is not environmentally sustainable. Traditional tanning offers an interesting sustainable alternative that has awakened interest in the fashion industry. The product they are looking for is thin and beautiful fish leather with different patterns depending on the species of fish, which is easy to sew, washable, and durable. 

Tanning techniques and ways to cooperate

Master Tanner Lotta Rhame's aim is to develop tanning methods and to find ways of cooperating with the industry. Questions relating to tanning techniques include which plants are best suited to tanning fish leather, and what methods should be used to wash the finished leather. Tanning using only hand tools is not economically viable, but Rahme sees an opportunity to combine the use of modern knowledge with traditional techniques, which requires cooperation with tanners who work on a larger scale, as well as with technicians, designers, and textile workers. 

Part of an international project

The work in the project is related to a larger international project called "Developing Fish Skin as a Sustainable Raw Material for the Fashion Industry". In the international project,  partners from five other countries participate: the UK, Italy, Israel, Iceland, and Japan. The international cooperation will be carried out in a series of meetings during 2019-2022. The guest project will end in 2021 and is presented in written form and at seminars and craft gatherings.

Master tanner with long experience

Master Tanner Lotta Rahme has been studying, researching, filming, writing books, and teaching about traditional tanning since the early 1980s. Lotta was taught by skilled craftspeople from various indigenous peoples, such as Native Americans, Inuit people, Ainu in Japan, and Sami people. Her goal has always been to learn the techniques and pass them on to as many people as possible. 

Lotta Rhame carrying a basket, photo.

Film: Masterclass in fish leather tanning

Want to learn more about traditional fish leather tanning? Look at the trailer for Lotta Rhames instructional film.

A brown fish leather vest, photo.
A fish leather vest, made by Lotta Rahme.
Photo: Lotta Nelson Rahme