Last Saturday, a spirited textile design student from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts named Sabina Brägger came by our workspace with an armful of very interesting leather samples.
Is that dinosaur leather?!
No, actually it is fish leather (sturgeon) from the Tropenhaus in Frutigen, Switzerland.
Why would we be interested in fish leather? We have no intention of giving up our vegetable-treated cow leather straps from Ecopell.
You see, this sturgeon skin from the Tropenhaus in Frutigen has a very special story behind it. The Tropenhaus (English: Tropic House) is a greenhouse at the cutting edge of experiments in renewable energy. In 2005-2007, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (currently the world’s longest on land) was built to ease truck traffic on Swiss roads. An unfortunate side-effect of the tunnel was a large amount of continually flowing warm water. The water could not be redirected into the nearby river, as its relatively warmer temperature would disrupt the life cycle of endangered fish living there.
What to do? A bit of ingenuity to the rescue…instead of using energy to cool the water before passing it into the river, the Tropenhaus would use the warm water to power a greenhouse which could produce exotic fruit, sturgeon meat, and caviar.
Sabina, however, spotted a way the Tropenhaus could be made even more efficient (it’s already quite so). What were they doing with the skin from the sturgeons? It turns out they were just burning it.
Sturgeons are a bonefish, which means they don’t have any scales. And their skin is rather thick with a pleasant, cork-like feel — it has potential for a leather watch strap.
We are therefore doing a project with Sabina for her bachelor thesis to see if we can make leather watch straps from Tropenhaus sturgeon skin…stay tuned for the results!