Why would fish skin be better than animal skin? It is more durable, more sustainable and climate friendly - amongst others, says Norskin entrepreneur Michal Meyer Nilssen (29).
Michal Meyer Nilsen comes from the Vesterålen region and is the man behind Norskin, a company producing fish skin based on farmed salmon and spotted catfish. Norskin was one of the shortlisted companies for the High North Young Entrepreneur competition recently awarded during High North Dialogue conference.
While the entrepreneur’s company did not make the final cut in that competition and thus did not win the NOK 50,000 award, he nevertheless goes all-in for his product, in which he has such great faith.
“We take what would otherwise be considered waste and exploit it. I consider what we do a direct answer do the demand for sustainable production”, Nilssen says.
The company buys fish skin from local fish farmers in the Salten region
Idea conceived while studying
Since founding the company in 2019, a number of people have been hired, amongst them a quality manager, in addition to the manager himself. The company is currently looking for production workers.
“90 percent of what we do is production. We process the skin and produce on demand, and we make product samles for demonstration”, Nilssen says.
How did you conceive the idea behind this?
“While studying at Nord University Business School, I wrote an assignment about international entrepreneurship. I interviewed people who were into production of salmon skin and realized that there were no industrial actors in this area.”
Norskin should equal Norwegian quality skin from the ocean, based on Norwegian tradition.
What can fish skin be used to?
“Anything. Furniture, interior, cars”, the entrepreneur says.
In fact, salmon skin can be found in some BMW models as a replacement for wood, aluminum, or carbon fibers. Nilssen stresses that Norskin should equal Norwegian quality skin from the ocean, based on Norwegian tradition.
No long-standing commercial tradition
In Norway, there has been no long tradition for exploiting fish skin commercially until during WW2. Then, fish skin was used for shoes, bags, and suitcases due to shortage of other goods. Catfish skin was most popular, though cod, coalfish, haddock, and ling were also common.
To trace the genuinely old tradition, we have to go back to 1432, when Italian merchant Pietro Querini shipwrecked off the coast of Røst islands in Nordland, Norway:
“The houses have only one window located in the middle of the roof, and as it gets very cold here in winter, they have covered it with skin from big fish. The skins have been prepared in a way that allows light to shine through”, the shipwrecked Italian wrote in his journal.
Fish skin has been more commonly used for clothes among the Inuit. According to a Norwegian encyclopedia, chieftains had footwear made of king salmon skin.
In the early 2000s, fish skin had its renaissance when designers launched bikinis, miniskirts, and boots in fish skin or what they referred to as “cuir de mer”, ocean leather.
Norwegian fish skin production has for the most part been based on as-needed basis. However, Michal Meyer Nilssen believes the world’s overall emphasis on sustainability, climate and local produce will make a difference to how people select raw materials. Now, it is about launching Norskin on an international market.
“We are in a critical phase now where we have to work on commercializing our brand, bring the product to the market. We have already received NOK 2 million in funding from Innorvation Norway and will use that to place Norskin on the map”, Nilssen says.
He adds that the whole product also can be used for making gelatin for decomposable plastic materials.
“Our goal is to have an entirely waste-free production line”, Nilssen says.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.