We – The Future Seen Through Craft
Part One: Fish Skin as a Fashion Material and the Dyeing Techniques of Kyoto

Text / YONEHARA Yuji

We–The Future Seen Through Craft

Inaugural symposium hosted by the Center for Innovation in Traditional Industries at Kyoto Seika University and Kyoto Kougei Week 2019

Date and Time: 1 September 2019 13:00-17:30 (Doors Open 12:00 noon)
Venue: Kyoto International Manga Museum 1F Multipurpose Video Hall
Karasuma-Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0846 JAPAN (former Tatsuike Primary School)
Host: Center for Innovation in Traditional Industries, Kyoto Seika University
Support: Kyoto Kougei Week Executive Committee
Cooperation: Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan; Kyoto Prefecture; Kyoto City; Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Participation: Free / Pre-registration required


We–The Future Seen Through Craft:
【Part One】Fish Skin as a Fashion Material and the Dyeing Techniques of Kyoto



Elisa Palomino (Pathway Leader, BA Fashion Print, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London)

Elisa Palomino is a recognized fashion designer with over 25 years’ experience working in the fashion luxury industry, academia, museums and galleries. Her training has been working at brands such John Galliano, Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Moschino and Diane von Furstenberg. In 2010 she launched her label showing at New York, Milan, Rome, Madrid and London fashion weeks. Since 2012 she directs the BA Fashion Print department at Central San Martins and is member of the Textile Future Research Centre TFRC. Elisa has pioneered the adoption of sustainable practices into the Fashion education curriculum.

Elisa’s research focus is inter-disciplinary, within the context of sustainability, integrating traditional craftsmanship methods with new technologies, keeping in mind the importance of environmental, ethical, and social impact of fashion materials. Her research aims to activate new models for sustainable textiles encouraging indigenous artisans to continue to produce craft and to pass their skills onto others, particularly within their own communities, creating socially engaging and participative art projects. She is a recipient of several academic scholarships: Fulbright Scholar Award: ‘Arctic Fishskin clothing traditions’ at the Smithsonian Institute, AHRC LDoc scholarship, Daiwa Foundation, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.


Issei Matsuyama (Matsuyama Senko)

Born 1978 in Kyoto. After graduating from an arts university, Matsuyama joined the family business, Matsuyama Senko, where he apprenticed under his father. The company specializes in a traditional dyeing technique known as shinzen (dip-dyeing), and primarily dyes Buddhist monastic robes and kimonos. Matsuyama Senko's highly refined techniques and modern sensibilities have garnered high acclaim. Matsuyama is a current member and former president (2009-2010) of the Kyoto Traditional Industry Wakaba Association, which aims to develop and support the continuation of Kyoto’s traditional industries. In 2015, he was recognized as a "Future Master Artisan" by Kyoto City. In the fish skin project, he dyes fish leather using plant-based dyes.


Mitsuhiro Kokita (Professor, Kyoto Seika University Faculty of Popular Culture Fashion Course)

Born in 1975. Kokita holds a BA in Fashion/Womenswear and an MA in Fashion/Menswear from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Prior to his current position, he worked for a major fashion brand and an apparel company, designed for the prêt-à-porter line of a long-established tailor, and ran his own brand while teaching at other universities. Kokita is a member of the Center for Innovation in Traditional Industries at Kyoto Seika University.



Yuji Yonehara (Director, Kyoto Seika University Center for Innovation in Traditional Industries)

Born 1977 in Kyoto Prefecture. Yonehara is a Kyoto-based writer and journalist specializing in the field of craft. In 2017, he was appointed Special Lecturer at Kyoto Seika University’s Center for Innovation in Traditional Industries. His work focuses on social research and education in the context of craft. Publications include Kyoto Shokunin - Takumi no Tenohira “Kyoto Artisans: The Palms of the Masters,” Kyoto Shinise - Noren no Kokoro “Historic Kyoto Stores - The Spirit of Noren” (co-author, Suiyosha), Listen to the Blues of Artisan in Kyoto (Keihanshin L Magazine), and The Emperor Higashiyama's Enthronement Ceremony in the Edo Period, and Its 1/4 Size Model (co-author, Seigensha).


Interpretation by Art Translators Collective
Kanoko Tamura, Nobuko Aiso, and Tomoko Momiyama

The Japanese honorific "-san" is used throughout the text in place of Mr./Ms.


■Yonehara: I would now like to begin the first part of the symposium, "Fish Skin as a Fashion Material and the Dyeing Techniques of Kyoto." My name is Yuji Yonehara, and I will be the moderator for this session.


Some of you may be wondering what this session is about, having read the title in the program. This first part will focus on fish skin and fish leather. It’s about fashion but it’s also about kougei (“craft” - see note below). I would first like to give a brief overview of the fish skin project.

*On the translation of kougei「工芸」
This transcript uses the word "craft" as a translation of the Japanese word kougei. Until Japan opened its borders in the Meiji period (1868-1912), there were no terms in use to signify "art" or "craft." The words bijutsu and kougei were defined relatively recently to correspond to the foreign words "art" and "craft," respectively.
Today, kougei is commonly used to mean handcraft or handwork and signify objects that are embedded in daily life, such as dish ware or clothing. In a broader definition, it may also include architecture or certain foods (e.g. sake, regional cuisine).
The kind of craft that is considered to be part of geijutsu (the arts) are commonly referred to as bijutsu kougei (literally, art-craft) or kansho kougei (viewing-craft). But there are also types of kougei that are neither art nor essential items and do not fit the definition (e.g. Nishijin textile wallpaper), making it difficult to draw clear borders around this category.
After the 2010s, with the re-evaluation of the mingei movement (the Japanese folk art movement), kougei adopted a more general definition. Currently the word is often used to refer to handcraft and surrounding cultural practices. 
Over the past few years, there has been considerable debate on the use of animal skins in the fashion industry. In particular, the use of exotic leather made from rare animals like alligators and snakes is viewed as being problematic from environmental and ethical standpoints. But that hasn’t affected the ongoing consumer demand, which is why studies are being conducted on materials that could replace exotic leather.

Amidst these concerns in the fashion world, a research project began. Gathering the resources of nine international institutions including Kyoto Seika University, the project aims to develop the techniques of tanning, dyeing, and sewing the skin of salmon and other fish caught in Iceland to produce a possible alternative to exotic leather.

Kyoto Seika University has been conducting experiments to dye fish skin together with textile dyers in Kyoto.  Bearing in mind the issues of sustainability and the natural environment that inspired this research in the first place, we’ve created samples using natural dyes and hand-dyeing techniques. Later in this session, I will ask Matsuyama-san, the textile dyer who has worked on those tests, to talk about the technical aspects of the process.


But first, we will hear from the research leader, Elisa-san. She will give a presentation on the project outline and share some details of the research.  

◆Presentation:Elisa Palomino
■Elisa: Thank you, everybody, for being here today. And I would especially like to thank Kokita-san and Yonehara-san, for inviting me to be here at Kyoto Seika University’s symposium. I am really, really honored to be with you today. My name is Elisa Palomino and I am the BA Fashion Print Fashion Pathway Leader at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts in London. This is my website on fish skin with the work that I have been doing in the past three years. If anyone would like to look at anything else related to this research, please check here for projects that I have been working on in the past three years.

I just came directly from Alaska and Washington D.C. where I was working at the Smithsonian Institution with funding from a Fulbright award to develop the fish skin project with different Alaskan Native people who have been working with fish skin for generations.

I have also been involved in the fish skin Horizon 2020 European project that we will be discussing later on. There are other projects like the Worth partnership, which is another European project. I have been hosting workshops with different universities all around the world, connecting indigenous people with fashion students in higher education. The European project that Kyoto Seika University is involved in aims to develop fish skin as sustainable raw material for the fashion industry.


The project is a combination of academia and industry and you can see here on the left, the academia who is involved in the project, the University of the Arts, London, Shenkar College of Engineering in Israel, the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Kyoto Seika University.
And then as part of the industry, we have Atlantic Leather, which is the biggest tannery on fish skin in the world. They are located in Iceland, and Ars Tinctoria one of the biggest laboratories working with tanneries and luxury industry in Tuscany, Italy. 

The really important thing about this project is that it combines the academy and industry. I believe we have to bring both strengths together: what the academy has to offer as well as the fashion industry. There are a lot of problems lately within the fashion industry in regard to sustainability. So, the fashion industry is looking into new raw materials, which are more sustainable, and this is how our project fits into the bigger picture.

Fish skin are sourced from the food industry and it could be looked at as following the principle of the circular economy. If we can generate materials from a byproduct of the food industry, in this case the skins of the fish, it ties into waste prevention.

We are also trying to look into sustainable production of the material, which is already happening right now at Atlantic Leather. They are working now with local communities of fisheries in Iceland and are bringing new jobs to coastal dwellers.

The eco-innovation that the project has brought into the fashion industry includes developing chrome-free tanning, natural dyes, and water-based digital prints. With these processes, fish skin can definitely become an alternative to exotic leathers like crocodile or snakes.

If we look at exotic leather and compare it with fish leather, there are quite a lot of differences between the two. For instance, fish leather is a byproduct of the food industry. Fish leather only uses non-endangered species like salmon, perch, wolfish, while exotic leather uses snakes and crocodiles that are farmed solely for the skins.

Fish leather is produced with geothermal energy from the Icelandic volcanoes, and uses vegetable tanning developed by Atlantic Leather, in contrast to the chrome tanned exotic leather. There are other advantages of fish skin, like its strength, which comes from the crosshatch fibers of the fish.


Furthermore, the way workers are treated in different companies is very different. In Vietnam, where most of the exotic leathers are produced, there is an unfair treatment of the workers who receive very low wages. But there is a huge profit by the luxury industry who eventually sells these leather products. This is not the case for fish leather and the people working in Atlantic Leather.

There is also all the inhumane treatment of animals. Sometimes up to 220 crocodiles are crammed in every pool, waiting to be slaughtered. Snakes are forcibly pumped with water while it’s alive to obtain a larger surface area for the production of snakeskin.

Our society is going through a lot of changes, including the way we eat. Because there are a lot of people who have stopped eating meat, there is a much bigger consumption of fish. There are also health benefits from eating fish, such as omega-3, and so on. This means that the global production has increased, but at the same time, more than 50% of the fish capture results in 32 million tons of waste.


In Europe, dumping of the fish skin into waterways is still allowed. When the fish skin from seafood processors enter the ocean, they suck up all the oxygen from various marine species and they also introduce disease into the ecosystems.

One of our main partners is Atlantic Leather, which is the largest fish skin tannery in the world. They have been producing fish skin since 1994 and it has taken them more than 10 years to arrive at the best process of tanning fish skin because it is not the same as other leathers like cowhides. You have to work with different temperatures. If the temperature is too high, it will melt and you end up with fish soup instead of fish leather.

Atlantic Leather has tapped into the technology and the historical context of fish skin, which was used in Iceland after a volcanic eruption in the 18th century that lead to a shortage of cowhides. In response to this situation, Icelanders started to tan fish, which is what they had around them and started to produce shoes with the skins of wolffish.

Another important fact about Atlantic Leather is that they are looking into the history of Iceland. Fisheries has been the most important industry for the country since the ninth century. 

Iceland also owns the world's most efficient and sustainable fisheries as well. They use renewable and hydro-geothermal energy from the volcanoes, which makes the product much more sustainable.

They also have responsible production practices. For example, they only use sustainably managed, farmed fish from the Nordic region; no wild salmon is used for the skins.

Because Iceland is a small island far away from Europe, people have had to subsist on whatever was available to them. So, they used absolutely every part of the fish. This new industry is also creating new jobs for coastal dwellers of remote places like the north east part of the island where Atlantic Leather is based.
Atlantic Leather is a family-run business, which I think is another important aspect for fashion right now. The fish they use are mostly salmon, perch, carp, and wolffish.

These (in the photo) are some of the panels that they sell, because the problem with fish skin is that it is very narrow. In order to make panels that can be used in fashion and not just for accessories, they provide different kinds of panels stitched together in brick shapes, triangle shapes and fish shapes. They also have ways of working with fish skin to create a patent leather like effect or a holographic mirror effect with foil.


What we have been able to introduce to the project is the practice of vegetable tanning, which uses different trees for different effects, such as the bark of the mimosa tree. Now the material has become a big success in major fabric fairs like Première Vision.


Another important aspect of the project is the indigenous traditional knowledge of fish skin. Historically, there have been many indigenous communities in the Arctic that used fish skin to dress themselves. For a lot of different communities living by the sea, ocean or river, fish was what they ate and used as a material to dress themselves.

The Arctic and Subarctic regions include the entire area that covers Iceland, all the Sámi countries in the Scandinavian area, the Russian far east, the northeast of China, Hokkaido and Sakhalin island, and all of the North American Arctic between Alaska and Canada.
I would also like to highlight the relationship that the Arctic indigenous peoples have with fish and the environment. Fish is still the primary food source for the indigenous communities, but they never made excessive fish reserves. They were only using what they needed and made sure that nothing was wasted.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why fish skin craft is about to disappear. For example, in China, overfishing and water pollution has led to the decline in fish stocks. The constructions of dams have also caused significant damage to fish populations.


For a lot of the indigenous peoples, they have turned to farming or tourism for work and they also now have access to raw materials like cotton and silk. For these reasons, the use of fish skin in indigenous communities have now become reserved only for regalia or garments for rituals and festivals.

I’d like to move on to talking about fish skin in contemporary fashion, and in order to do that, we need to go back to the 1930s and 1940s when Salvatore Ferragamo, the Italian shoe designer, had just come back from Hollywood where he was designing shoes for movie stars.

When he arrived in Italy, the country was right in the middle of the World War II, under Mussolini’s rule. This meant that it was difficult for raw materials to come into the country. So he looked around in search of alternatives and saw the fisheries from north of Italy. He then developed a new technique to tan fish leather.

This was in the 1940s. He was an incredible revolutionary, who was not only a designer but also a technician. And we can see some of the beautiful shoes that he created at that time. There is a great exhibition right now called sustainable fashion, in Florence at the Ferragamo museum, and some of these shoes are on display now. There were also some great advertising campaigns to go with it, which showed the fish that the leather was made from. These were very successful at the time. There are other brands who have experimented with the use of fish skin.


On the left, you have the Brazilian brand Osklen. They work with Nova Kaeru who developed fish skin from the Amazonian fish, Pirarucu. And pictured on the right is a pair of Nike trainers made with perch skin from Atlantic Leather.

And you might be wondering, why are you so obsessed with fish skin? Back in 2002 when I was the head of the studio at John Galliano and also working for Christian Dior, we did a show, which was actually inspired by a family of Eskimo traveling to Paris in 1950s. Galliano was always so innovative about finding new materials and getting new ideas. And he sent us to Première Vision to source some fabrics. The head of the fabric department and I came back with all these salmon and perch skins to try and inspire him, which was always so difficult to do. That was quite a good thing that we came up with. John loved it, and we used it all over the collection. In the image, you can see a salmon leather jacket on the left, and a pair of perch trousers on the right.


Here you can see a salmon skirt on the left and perch skirt on the right. We also used fish skin for accessories. So, this is where my love of fish skin started originally.


These are samples of other work I have made recently, testing digital printing on salmon leather. You can see how similar it looks to snakeskin, which leads me to think that the fashion industry could easily make the switch to fish and leave snakeskin behind. I also have different samples of digital prints with our water-based inks, foiling and laser etching techniques, and laser cut designs.

Lately, I have been working with the techniques of Japanese indigo dye and indigo Katazome (stencil dyeing). My idea was to imagine what could have happened in history, if the craft of indigo dyeing was combined with the incredible technology of fish skin. I believe it is important that Kyoto Seika is a part of this project, because Kyoto has been the center of crafts here in Japan. I believe we can really advance the development of fish skin with the support of Kyoto craftsmanship.

The following slides show a project that is very dear to me. My job is to work with fashion students in higher education. These are fish skin workshops that I have organized along with other university teachers from different fields all around the world. Pictured here is the first one that we hosted in Iceland. I’ve brought together incredible students from top fashion universities in Northern Europe, like Central Saint Martins in London, the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Denmark, Aalto University in Finland, the Swedish School of Textiles in Boras in Sweden, and Iceland Academy of Arts, to share the techniques of fish skin. I believe the students are the future and once they are equipped with the knowledge and techniques, they are the ones who can make sure the craft does not die.


The second workshop was held in Japan at Nibutani Ainu Museum in Hokkaido. Again, the idea was to gather students from different universities, such as Kyoto Seika University, Bunka Gakuen University in Tokyo, and Osaka Bunka Fashion College, to learn the technique of making salmon skin boots. I then developed a third workshop in Heilongjiang province in the Northeastern part of China with the Hezhe indigenous community, who also tan and use fish skin.

I am always interested by what the students create after participating in the workshop.


One student created her own textiles with naturally dyed fish skins that she wove. Another student who had used fish skin before, went to the fishmonger in London after the workshop and created his own garments for the fashion show. There was also a student who paired up with a member of the Hezhe community and crocheted fish skin for her final collection. A student from Iceland who comes from a family of fishermen, also made a collection that combines embroidery and different men's wear materials with fish skin.

That concludes my presentation. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you for your attention.

Fish Skin in Fashion, Fish Skin in Craft
■Yonehara: Now, I'd like to invite Kokita-san and Matsuyama-san to join me in a discussion about the Kyoto-based portion of this research.

As Elisa-san talked about in her presentation, sustainable practices in fashion is at the core of this project. In the UK, well-known department stores and other major retailers have declared they will no longer carry products made with exotic leather. This has been reported in the news so some of you in the audience may already be aware of this initiative. It’s difficult for those of us in Japan to understand the urgency, but in the European fashion industry, designers are faced with a pressing problem of not having places to sell their exotic leather products. I imagine retailers outside of Europe will follow this trend and I’m sure it will reach Asia and Japan in the near future. Based on this shift, there is now a market for fashion design and manufacturing that uses alternatives to exotic leather. Kokita-san, is it fairly common in fashion for consumers to demand ethical practices from designers?

■Kokita: I would say so. In Japan, I don’t think there is quite the same level of recognition for the value of sustainable or environmentally friendly manufacturing. Recently, we’ve seen Japanese companies taking on more initiatives in this vein, but consumer awareness has not caught up yet. The significance of our participation in the fish skin project is that we are able to directly engage with the progressive, ethical practices of Europe and North America. One responsibility I have as a participant is to take what I learn through this project and share it with people in Japan to spread awareness of the issues at hand.

Fashion is not just about making clothes. It’s also a means of self-expression and a medium to share the depth and richness of your identity, but it shouldn’t only be about the individual ego or the quality of materials. I think it’s important to recognize that environmental and social awareness are valued in fashion. As educators, we need to learn about the relevant issues alongside students, and create places to generate those values. 

■Yonehara: As part of this project, Kyoto Seika University has been testing traditional Japanese dyeing techniques on fish skin from Iceland. There are different types of techniques to textile dyeing and we are consulting several artisans at the moment. Today we are joined by Matsuyama-san of Matsuyama Senko, who has made the most progress on the dye samples so far. Matsuyama-san's work is known as shinzen (dip-dyeing). As you can tell from the kanji (T/N: the character for shin 浸 means “dip” and zen 染 “dye”), this is a technique where material is submerged in the dye bath to impart color and it’s also known as muji-zome or plain dyeing. Matsuyama-san normally dyes Buddhist monastic robes. 
■Matsuyama: Originally, our clients were mostly in the field of kimono and other Japanese garments for regular wear. But as time passed, and we changed out the equipment and other parts of our facility, we started to plain-dye fabrics used for other purposes, like hou-e (monk’s robes) or shozoku (ceremonial garments used in Shinto shrines). Our job is to take the shirokiji (white fabric before dyeing) that our clients bring in and dye it evenly and beautifully to match the color sample, while ensuring colorfastness.
■Yonehara: Matsuyama-san dyed the fabrics used to make these microphone cushions. I hope everyone can take a closer look later. Purple and green are traditional colors, aren't they?
■Matsuyama: Yes, we often receive requests to dye monk’s robes in those colors.
■Yonehara: Matsuyama-san’s workshop specializes in silks and this is true for most textile dyers in Kyoto. Dip-dyeing is just one of many dyeing techniques that is practiced in the area, but what all the Kyoto dyers have in common is that they mainly work with silk. So, I first want the audience to understand that a dyer in Kyoto, who is not used to working with materials other than silk, much less the skin of a fish, has taken on this challenge.

The other thing I want to mention is that in Kyoto, dip-dyeing is almost exclusively done with synthetic dyes (chemical dyes). This might be unexpected, but for more than 150 years, the textile dyeing techniques in Kyoto has developed around the use of synthetic dyes. When they were first brought into Japan in large quantities from Europe and North America during the Meiji era, Japanese people were surprised by the vibrance, colorfastness, and variety of hues compared to plant-based dyes, which were the mainstream at the time. Particularly within Kyoto’s textile dyeing industry, there is a long lineage of artisans who mastered the use of synthetic dyes in traditional processes through trial and error. Setting aside for a moment the question of whether we should be using chemical dyes, textile dyeing in Kyoto went through a remarkable evolution over the past 150 years.

In our fish skin project, we have only used plant-based dyes so far. This is because the project stemmed from environmental and ethical concerns. But for most textile dyers in Kyoto, including Matsuyama-san, the dyes they use are normally synthetic.

With these two points in mind, I'd like to move on to a discussion about the specifics of dyeing fish skin. Earlier, Elisa mentioned that fish skin is a strong and durable material. Initially, this came as a surprise for me because I was imagining the flimsy salmon skin that you often eat for breakfast. During my visit to Iceland, I had the opportunity to feel the textures of some of the tanned fish leather, and they reminded me of snakeskin or crocodile skin.


We brought some fish skin samples today to share. These are the pieces that Matsuyama-san dyed. As we saw in the photo earlier, the color is very vivid immediately after dyeing, but as time passes, it becomes more muted like this.

■Matsuyama: That's right. Whether it’s fabric or fish skin, the hue appears twice as dark while the material is damp. Once it’s dry, the colors become a lot more subdued.
■Yonehara: In order to respond to the demands of the fashion industry, we’ve asked him to try creating fairly vivid colors. Having said that, we are using plant-based dyes so it’s not easy to produce bright hues that don’t exist in nature. Matsuyama-san made a color chart for us and you can see that it’s possible to achieve a wide range of colors by varying the combination of dyes and fixatives. However, we are limited in terms of the intensity.
■Matsuyama: In nature, there are a lot of yellow and brown tones. Of those, I selected the ones that had relatively vivid and colorfast pigments for the chart.
■Yonehara: We should also remember that what’s beautiful about natural dyes are the subdued color palette. I understand you are varying the dyeing time and fixative to achieve vivid colors.
■Matsuyama: Having dyed some of the fish skin, my honest impression is that the color doesn’t deepen as easily as it does for silk. Earlier it was mentioned that fish skin disintegrates at high temperatures. Silks on the other hand, are placed in plenty of water at high temperature to swell the fiber before adding the dye (T/N: water-swollen fibers allow for better absorption of the dye). When I first started working with fish skin, I didn’t even know if the skin would absorb moisture. But I did know that if I raised the temperature too much, the fish skin would shrink. In order to increase color depth, I want to raise the temperature, but I haven’t been able to do that because of the possible shrinkage.
■Yonehara: I know you’ve had to set up a separate workspace to dye the fish skin for us since you can’t really use the same facilities as the monastic robes. Thank you for going through the trouble to contribute to our research.

One thing I’d like to ask Elisa is about her earlier comment on Atlantic Leather in Iceland. You said it’s extremely important that they are a family-run handcraft company. When we first visited Matsuyama-san's workshop in Kyoto together, you said the same thing.

You have been working to bring in family-run businesses and handcraft to this cutting-edge research. In the context of the fashion industry, where do you situate this move to envision our collective future through the lens of traditional handcrafts from around the world?

■Elisa: I think we need to value traditional practices that are carried on in families. This is obviously something you see a lot of in Kyoto. When I visited Matsuyama-san’s workshop, I saw his father, grandfather, sister and mother, everyone in his family working in the company. When I visited Atlantic Leather, another family-run business, I was surprised to see how small it was. But actually, fish skin needs to be a small-scale production. It needs to be treated as a unique and precious material. It goes without saying that the research should connect to a larger context, of course, but at the same time, if it is to become an alternative to exotic leather, we can’t start using it like cow leather. We can’t use it to make sneakers for major fast fashion brands. I think the fashion industry, particularly the luxury industry is interested in the traditional techniques and family-run production environment of fish skin.
■Yonehara: Multiple viewpoints are intertwined in this research project. You might call them the agendas of all the people and industries involved. Let’s put them in order.

First, Iceland is concerned with the future direction of the country’s industry. As one of the leading fishing nations in the world, they also discard large amounts of fish skin during processing. If they could turn fish leather into a viable product, it would address both the ethical and environmental concerns in one fell swoop, while also generating profit.

Second, the fashion industry is urgently seeking a substitute material for exotic leather. In recent years, major department stores and retailers have stopped carrying products using exotic leather. But that doesn’t mean the demand for materials with similar textures has diminished. Fish skin is a promising candidate as a replacement for leather with scales.

Third, workers in leather processing plants are facing unjust labor environments. We must protect the workers’ rights and rethink the environment where proper transactions can take place to provide fashion materials.

Finally, Kyoto can take this opportunity to innovate its textile dyeing techniques that has historically catered to the kimono industry and specialized in silk. This is a challenge for those involved in this craft.

This endeavor carries the hopes and expectations of numerous contributors and partners. One of the many institutions that are participating in this project is the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Israel, which conducts environmental research. Their concern is that using fish skin could destabilize the marine ecosystem. Their role is to oversee the fish skin research and make sure that what began as a project to develop a sustainable alternative to exotic leather, does not cause new environmental problems in the process.

■Kokita: This February, there was a networking event in Israel for the participating institutions. The main venue was the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (hereafter “IUI”), which is located in southern Israel in a city called Eilat on the coast of Red Sea. Because of the high salinity of the Red Sea, the area is suited for the cultivation of algae for fish feed and their research primarily focuses on aquaculture and fish farming. With the projected rise of the global population, they are also working to address the issue of global hunger. How could we increase food production and manage the consequent increase of byproducts without negatively impacting the ecosystem? As Elisa mentioned earlier, the skin makes up a large part of the waste in fish processing. The researchers at IUI have requested that the fish skin be utilized without causing negative impact on the marine environment and ecosystems. This is what I understood to be their motive for joining the project.
As we move forward with this research project, I’d like to maintain an awareness of its effect on the environment and pay attention to the ways in which raw materials are procured. Sustaining production is important but we also need to set our sights on sustaining a larger cycle. In that sense, I think the participation of IUI in this research is extremely salient.
■Yonehara: It's still in the testing stage, but I've brought with me some of the fish skin samples that Matsuyama-san dyed for us.
■Matsuyama: This is the first large piece that I dyed. Up until this point, I had been dyeing smaller pieces in lab beakers. I was given a few samples that were tanned using different techniques, and I wanted to see how each one took up the color. Depending on how they were tanned, some would shrink quite a bit with even the slightest rise in temperature.
■Yonehara: The tanning method affects the degree of shrinkage.
■Matsuyama: Some were not as affected by the temperature rise. I was afraid to dye the ones that would shrink easily.
■Yonehara: This is also a difficult material for the dye to penetrate.
■Matsuyama: Yes, it’s quite difficult. If I raise the temperature too much, some would shrink and firm up and the surface would flake off when touched. When this happened, it would reveal a kind of gelatinous layer underneath, which was not dyed at all. This confirmed that the dye had only adhered to the surface of the fish skin.
■Yonehara: Ideally, the project should proceed with the dyer and tanner in close communication. We plan to invite Matsuyama-san to the networking event scheduled for this September in Iceland. There, we plan to exchange information with the tanners at Atlantic Leather, visit their factory, and ensure that the project moves forward smoothly.
■Matsuyama: I think from this point on, we need to start thinking about a dyeing process that is suited to the tanning method and vice versa.
■Yonehara: We have asked the Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture to evaluate the fish skin that Matsuyama-san dyed, according to the standards set for industrial materials. They measured its colorfastness in relation to the effects of light, perspiration, washing, amongst others. We have the results and the numbers aren’t looking very good... At first glance, they are beautifully dyed, but the tests showed that it did not meet the standard for fashion materials. Since the research is still in its preliminary stage, we’re not too concerned about the current results. But these assessments offer us something to think about in regards to the future direction of the project.
■Matsuyama: Normally, when I work on materials for kimonos, I often think about color “removal.” Because when you add family crests on a pre-dyed kimono (T/N: the crest design is usually painted on a white or colorless background), or change the color of the garment through re-dyeing, the ease of color removal becomes an important factor. My job is to dye the materials so that the color stays, but when it comes time to decolorize, the dye also needs to be thoroughly removed. Perhaps the use of dyes that can later be removed is unique to my profession of dyeing kimono textiles.
■Yonehara: The fact that some day you might need to remove the color, is taken into consideration in the choice of dye.
■Matsuyama: It’s part of kimono culture to re-dye and use the same textile across multiple generations. In terms of the standards for colorfastness, I think what is valued (in dyeing kimono) is fundamentally different compared to the fashion industry.
■Kokita: The process of tanning comes before dyeing and once the fish skin is dyed, there is the process of surface treatment. Our next major challenge is to think about how to link these processes. If we can thoughtfully combine their strengths, we may be able to overcome some of the issues we are having with the material.
■Yonehara: Elisa-san, what do you think of the color Matsuyama-san chose for this piece?
■Elisa: It's my favorite color, I love it.
■Yonehara: This project is funded by Horizon 2020, a large EU research grant. As Kyoto Seika University is located outside of the EU, our part of the research is moving at a different pace from the other eight institutions, but as a whole, this is a four-year project starting this year in 2019. Although it falls under the category of basic research, one of our objectives in the next four years is to get a sense for the practical viability of fish skin as a fashion material.

Elisa-san, what do you foresee as the outcome after four years?

■Elisa: I think one of the most important things is to make sure we have a sustainably made product (both in the tanning and dyeing processes), that meets the quality standards for use in the fashion industry. We also need to develop other techniques such as printing or foiling because the current textile foiling technology is not very sustainable. How we position ourselves in the market is also key. We need to work on marketing strategies and business planning. We have received interest from the luxury industry. Through the connections we already have, we should explore where we can go with that. At the moment we are working with the fashion departments of the universities involved, but eventually we may be able to invite other disciplines to collaborate. So, I think there are a lot of things that could be achieved in the coming years.
■Yonehara: Earlier, Elisa-san talked about fast fashion brands and how we should avoid using fish skin to mass produce products for them. But rather than turning away from those companies because of a difference in philosophy, I think it’s important to not only include them on our list of potential corporate partners but also seek concrete ways to collaborate and offer handcrafted, sustainable materials. I believe such a shift in thinking can also bring change to the difficult situations that artisans currently face in family-run workshops and businesses.
■Matsuyama: The dip-dyeing industry is in dire straits right now. For me, participating in this project has allowed me to gain meaningful experiences. I hope I can bring what I learned into the field of traditional dip-dyeing. Normally I use chemical dyes in my work, and I am aware of the negative effects on the environment. I had been working with plant dyes in my personal work before I joined this research but being a part of the fish skin project has given me the opportunity to rethink the future of textile dyeing.
■Kokita: At the moment we are using Icelandic fish skin to make dye samples, but in the future, we want to look into using domestic fish skin. I’ve exchanged some ideas with institutions that research fish farming, and we are looking for farmed fish that are produced with minimal impact on the ecosystem. For example, even if the fish is completely farm-raised from egg to harvest, the smaller “forage fish” may be overfished in the process of feeding them. In the current system, much of the focus is placed on the farming of larger fish, and the ecosystems of smaller fish are overlooked. Our next challenge is to sort through these problems and think about where they fit into our research. 

We are also in contact with researchers who study seafood processing. Earlier, Elisa mentioned that more than 50% of the fish capture produces 32 million tons of waste. So how do we collect this large amount of waste for use in fashion? Unlike the meat-processing industry where the processing plants are concentrated in certain areas, seafood processing plants are usually scattered, which makes it difficult to source byproducts in large batches. In Japan, the waste from fish processing, including the skin is pulverized to make fertilizers or feed for farmed fish, making the procurement of domestic fish skin all the more difficult. If we are to think of fish leather production as an industry, we also have to think about the costs. Oftentimes, being ethical alone is not enough. We need to examine its financial viability as well, given that the results of this research will eventually be turned into a business.

■Yonehara: In the history of the Ainu people in Hokkaido (T/N: the indigenous people of Japan), there is a tradition of processing fish skin. There are similar traditional practices in the Tohoku region as well. Neither are active industries today, but it is embedded in the memories and cultures of the place. The advantages we have as a university is that we can take on these challenges, some of which do not immediately produce profit, and continue our research in hopes that it might one day change the world. We also have a responsibility to think realistically about the financial aspects of the research, together with those outside of our school who support the project. All that to say, we need diverse perspectives for this research. I hope we can find new collaborators to expand the network in Japan and abroad.

More than anything, this research brings a lot of excitement, and it holds a lot of promise. When I first heard from Elisa-san and Kokita-san about a project to naturally dye salmon skin that has been tanned by hand, I thought it sounded very fun! My first thought was not about sustainable development goals or what it would mean for a sustainable society—I was simply excited by the concept. I hope we were able to share that excitement with you today. I plan to organize meetings in the future to periodically report on the progress of this project. I would like to invite everyone to follow along and join us on this endeavor.

There’s more to say on this topic but I think our time is up. We’ll end part one here.
Thank you.

We - The Future Seen Through Craft: On the Publication of the Full Transcript
We - The Future Seen Through Craft: Opening Remarks
We - The Future Seen Through CraftPart OneFish Skin as a Fashion Material and the Dyeing Techniques of Kyoto
We - The Future Seen Through CraftPart Two】For the Next 1000 Years of Handcrafts
We - The Future Seen Through Craft【DiscussionPassing the Baton to the Future

[In Pictures] We - The Future Seen Through Craft