Leather made from mermaids? Not exactly… and the curiosity to find out what this place is all about was too strong to ignore.
Dave MacDermott was a chef and one day, he got a phone call from his brother, Andrew, asking for fish skins from the kitchen so that he could do an experiment. Using a big milo tin and a tanning hobby kit, Andrew started tanning fish skins and this is where Mermaid Leather began.
Andrew and Dave had a mate called Bob Bubb who had a fishing boat and was interested in reducing waste by using all parts of the fish that he caught. He teamed up with Andrew and started a business that made use of the flesh and skins of fish, reducing waste and working to conserve fish populations for future generations.
All of the fish skins that Mermaid Leather use are by-products of the food industry and they use local and imported skins; never from protected species. They purchase the skins which would otherwise be destined for the bin for 50c a kilo and start the two week tanning process only with the nicest skins – all icky, smelly, old skins are discarded.
The skins are soaked for 3 days in fresh water before all the flesh and scales are removed with a drawknife. The skins are then put into the tanning tumbler and coloured with either synthetic dyes or organic eucalyptus tannins that produce brown and honey colours. Drying the skins take between 3 days and 4 months and in that time, they are stretched and handled to ensure softness and flexibility. Finally, they are sprayed with a finishing product before being sold or made into purses, bags, wallets, iPhone covers, buttons, pens and other accessories.
Mermaid leather also use shark skins to make leather, or shagreen. Shark skins are covered with little teeth called dermal denticles, which remove drag when swimming by 10%. Fish skin tanning is an old art that was practiced in Scotland, Norway and Korea and shark leather was used by Vikings. Mermaid Leather has featured in 2000 Leagues Under the Sea in Michael Caine’s costume.
Mermaid Leather is now Australia’s only fish and shark leather tannery and produce leathers that are about 25% stronger than sheep-skin. They’ve appeared on a few television programs over the last 20 years, including The Discovery Channel (1991), Clever Country (1992), Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (1995), Getaway (1999) and Our WA (2001).
Fish leather falls into the category of exotic leather, meaning it has decorative value in the pattern. Other skins that fall into this category include crocodile, emu and snake. To get the best fish leather, scales need to be removed without damaging the cell pocket. Leathers with big scales, such as barramundi and grouper, sell more than the smaller scaled leathers, and it is probably the most affordable of all exotic leathers at $50 per square foot, compared to crocodile at $400 and emu at $200.
The guys keep a cat on premises as a means of pest control – rats and mice like the warmth and chewiness of leather. They’re currently on their third kitty and he’s gorgeous!
Mermaid Leather is open Tuesday to Sunday from 2pm to 5pm.
Phone: 08 9071 5248