The highly invasive lionfish may be the enemy of many marine life habitats, but it is also proving to be a fashionable (and regenerative) godsend.
Although human error led species to enter waterways decades ago from recreational aquariums, the lionfish’s unknown predators and rapid spawning advantage made them a nightmare problem extending from the Caribbean. from the Gulf of Mexico to the east coast. Today, the average lionfish kills 79% of native reef fish pups within five weeks and tithe entire food chains. A Florida-based start-up called Inversa Leathers (founded by a group of divers in 2020) hopes to address the problem while providing a premium leather alternative that acts as a substitute for exotics.
“Invasive species don’t happen by chance. This is a man-made problem. The time has come for us to take responsibility, “Inversa Leathers chief marketing officer Deepika Nagarajan told WWD. After being named a finalist in the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance competition, the start-up is revealing its first collaboration. fashion show in collaboration with Italian sneaker label P448 which will be released on June 28. Nagarajan said: “It’s the first big-to-market hit we’ve had, but it’s just the beginning of a long journey.” .
Launched in five colourways, the P448 sneaker is available in red, pink, blue, silver and black. It will be available in limited edition at the Le Bon Marché department store in Paris.
In addition to boasting Mark Wahlberg as a strategic investor, P448 has a number of collaborations from global artists that draw attention and calls for sustainability with the lionfish as its latest and most extraordinary spectacle. The label opened its first U.S. retail outlet on Fifth Avenue (celebrating graffiti walls, arcade games, and a speakeasy at the back) in September 2021. In all, approximately 1,400 stores worldwide carry the label with North America as the main market.
Not just a “cool fashion product that is also saving the planet”, in Nagarajan’s words, each sneaker is the equivalent of a lion fish removed and tens of thousands of native reef fish rescued.
Hoping to popularize the concept of “invasive skins” as a replacement for exotics, the premium material also has local enthusiasts (be it fishermen or biologists) behind it. The company works with local fishing cooperatives in Quintana Roo, Mexico by underwriting fishermen’s risk with a 100% catch-to-cash guarantee and providing upfront funding for materials. Inversa Leathers produces and tans its leathers in the USA, with tanning carried out in Cincinnati according to Reach certifications.
Aarav Chavda, co-founder and CEO of Inversa Leathers, said tanning a lionfish skin requires only 200ml (or less than a cup per skin) compared to ordinary cowhide. This averages 55 square inches (best tuned for small accessories) or 600ml per square foot. Third party tests and an LCA are also underway to demonstrate performance attributes.
Regarding fishing cooperatives, Chavda said: “These are places where many social enterprises and government funding don’t really exist. They know the lionfish but they can’t get paid for it. They have to get the money for it. “
Florida boasts one of the largest man-made reef resilience programs in the country, and marine biologists like Alex Fogg, a coastal resource manager in Okaloosa County, Florida, observe how it all goes down underwater.
Calling from a site visit for coral reef deployment (using concrete and limestone as mock reef structures for marine life), Fogg talked about the invasiveness of the lionfish. “We have found that we will never get rid of the lion fish … The more things you can identify to do with the lion fish, the more you can do to relieve it.” It is in this case that Fogg says that creativity and local solutions help. A collaborative solution is that the region is hosting the largest lionfish tournament in the world which saw the removal of 11,000 lionfish in May.
The opportunities are quite endless, with lionfish being a healthy and premium fish to consume, a leather and material alternative for jewelry (twisted fins and spine in jewelry). Fogg said the local market rate for lionfish is about $ 6.25 per pound compared to about $ 4 per pound for grouper. She also stated, as with many sustainability survey results, that “people don’t mind paying extra for lionfish, given the story behind it.”
With an investment round to be announced in the coming days for Inversa Leathers, the only compelling one could be definition-bound vegans.
“The dialogue around it has been quite enlightening for us,” Nagarajan said. “Recently, we had some comments on LinkedIn about it. People tend to recognize it as “protecting other species” and protecting biodiversity. We haven’t had that much trouble getting people to understand it as we thought. “