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This Alaska Startup Is Making Nice Luxury Items From Stinky Seafood Byproducts

The salmon leather wallets and crab shell fiber T-shirts are not only fun to wear, they also help do something useful with the industry’s waste.

Alaska produces billions of pounds of seafood each year, only a small fraction of which actually ends up on our plates. Millions of pounds of waste goes to pet food and fish oil, or, if a secondary use can’t be found, is simply ground up and dumped out in the ocean.

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Now, a Juneau-based startup is finding fresh uses for that waste, using environmentally sensitive processes to make products like salmon leather wallets and chitin T-shirts.

“There’s all this biomass that’s just being dumped next to our homes by these processing plants,” says Craig Kasberg, CEO of Tidal Vision. “We thought there must be so many possibilities with this.”

Kasberg and his co-founder Zach Wilkinson make the leather using a non-toxic vegetable-based “aquatic tanning” process. It involves cutting the leather into sheets and then sewing the material into wallets that are now available through its Kickstarter campaign. Kasberg describes the leather as smooth but slippery. If you drop a liquid on to it, it will flow away.

Tidal Vision’s second product, which it plans to release later, is derived from chitin, a substance found in crab and shrimp shells. It refines chitin to make chitosan fiber, which is then dyed and woven into T-shirts. Kasberg says the clothing is hard-wearing and doesn’t absorb odor, meaning you can dress in it for days without washing (which may be useful for a hike this summer).

The process for developing chitosan was borrowed from Chris Griggs, a scientist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s Engineer Research and Development Center. The Army uses chitosan bandages for certain battle wounds because it’s highly absorbent.

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The startup hopes to raise at least $15,000, which will go towards building a local manufacturing plant. Ultimately, it sees markets for its materials in the car, shoe, and furniture industries, all of which should help reduce seafood waste and provide higher income for fisheries locally.

“By developing new technologies to up-cycle these byproducts, we can add value to sustainable fisheries in the area,” Kasberg says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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