Marielle Philip is the owner of FEMER, a small leatherworking shop on the harbor of La Teste-de-Buch and off the Arcachon Bay, Aquitaine, France. In her workspace there are two big freezers that stock the different fish, whose skins will become leather: bass, salmon, soles, trout, turbots, burbots, sturgeons, catfish, rays, mullets and more, if it swims, it ends up on her workstation.
This artisanal technique has been practiced across the ages and across the globe: Native Americans, Japanese, but only in the 18th century in France Jean-Claude Galluchat invented the industrial tanning process. Tannin is the substance that is added in order to transform the skin into leather, rendering it supple and insoluble, and preventing it from rotting. Industry professionals use mineral salts as tannin, such as chromium salts, Marielle opted for a more natural alternative, out of environmental concerns: “I use local invasive plants, such as crushed mimosa root bark, which is found all over the Aquitaine region,” she explains. “I am always working on new vegetable tannin formulas. Choosing this process means that we are looking to remain as natural as possible, and obtain quality leather”.
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