Lionfish leather makes its first foray into fashion with sneaker label P448 – WWD
The highly invasive lionfish may be the enemy of many marine wildlife habitats – but it also happens to be a fashionable (and regenerative) boon of a material.
Although human error led the species to enter waterways decades ago from recreational aquariums, the lionfish’s lack of known predators and rapid spawning advantage have made it a nightmarish problem that stretches from the Caribbean, from the Gulf of Mexico to the east coast. Today, the average lionfish kills 79% of native baby reef fish in five weeks and decimates entire food chains. A Florida-based startup called Inversa Leathers (founded by a group of scuba divers in 2020) hopes to tackle the problem while offering an alternative to high-end leather that replaces exotics.
“Invasive species don’t happen by accident. This is a man-made problem. Now is the time for us to take responsibility,” Deepika Nagarajan, chief marketing officer of Inversa Leathers, told WWD. After being named a finalist in the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance competition, the start-up unveils its first commercial fashion collaboration in partnership with Italian sneaker brand P448 which will be released on June 28. -to-market we had but this is just the start of a long journey.
Launched in five colorways, the P448 sneaker is available in red, pink, blue, silver and black. It will be available in a limited edition at the Le Bon Marché department store in Paris.
As well as boasting Mark Wahlberg as a strategic investor, P448 boasts a number of global artist collaborations that draw attention and calls for sustainability with the lionfish as its most recent piece and the more known. The label opened its first pop-up outlet in the United States on Fifth Avenue (celebrating graffiti walls, arcade games and a speakeasy out back) in September 2021. In total, around 1,400 stores in the world carry the label, with North America being the main market. .
Not just a “cool fashion product that also saves the planet,” in Nagarajan’s words, each sneaker is equivalent to one lionfish removed and tens of thousands of native reef fish saved.
Hoping to popularize the concept of “invasive leathers” as a replacement for exotics, the high-end material also has local enthusiasts (be they fishermen or biologists). The company works with local fishing cooperatives in Quintana Roo, Mexico, guaranteeing the fishermen’s risk with a 100% catch guarantee and providing upfront financing for materials. Inversa Leathers produces and tans its hides in the United States, with the tanning being done in Cincinnati according to Reach certifications.
Aarav Chavda, co-founder and CEO of Inversa Leathers, said tanning lionfish skin takes just 200ml (or less than a cup per skin) compared to common bovine leather. That works out to 55 square inches on average (best tuned for smaller accessories), or 600ml per square foot. Third-party testing and an ACL are also underway to prove performance attributes.
As for fishing cooperatives, Chavda said, “These are places where a lot of social enterprises and public funds don’t really exist. They know lionfish but they can’t get paid for it. They have to get money for it.
Florida has one of the largest artificial reef resilience programs in the country, and marine biologists like Alex Fogg, a coastal resource manager from Okaloosa County, Florida, see how it all happens underwater.
After a site visit for the reef deployment (using concrete and limestone as simulated reef structures for marine wildlife), Fogg spoke about the invasiveness of lionfish. “We realized we’re never going to get rid of the lionfish… The more things you can identify to do with the lionfish, the more you can do to mitigate it.” This is where Fogg says creativity and local solutions help. A collaborative solution is for the region to host the largest lionfish tournament in the world which saw 11,000 lionfish removed in May.
The possibilities are pretty endless, with lionfish being a healthy, premium fish to eat, an alternative to leather, and a jewelry material (fins and spine contorted into jewelry). Fogg said the local market rate for lionfish is around $6.25 per pound, compared to around $4 per pound for grouper. He also said, as with many sustainability survey findings, “people don’t mind paying extra for lionfish, given the story behind it.”
With a round of investment to be announced in the coming days for Inversa Leathers, the only way to win over may be definition-bound vegans.
“The dialogue around this has been quite enlightening for us,” Nagarajan said. “Recently, we had some comments on LinkedIn about this. People tend to recognize that it’s about “protecting other species” and protecting biodiversity. We haven’t had as much trouble getting people to understand that as we thought.