MERMAID Marine Leather has taken value adding to a new level by building a business on the production of fish and shark leather, or ‘mermaid leather’ as it is known, from leftover skins bought from local commercial fishing operations.
What started out as hobby for the Esperance company’s founders, Mermaid Marine Leather is now one of only a handful of businesses worldwide that solely produce fish and shark leather. And according to its owners, it is the only registered fish and shark tannery in Australia.
Mermaid Marine Leather spokesman David MacDermott said the company now had worldwide marketing potential and turned over more than $100,000 a year.
He said that, with the help of Austrade, the company was exploring further export opportunities to complement its markets in Italy, the United States, Europe, Japan and the strong domestic market.
The company is also looking towards e-commerce as a means to increase sales.
“We’ve adapted and modernised the business to incorporate e-commerce,” Mr MacDermott said.
While the company was not selling through the web site at present, Mr MacDermott said that a “store front” was currently being developed for the site that would be operational within the next 12 months.
The company was started in 1989 by Esperance fisherman Bob Bubb and Andrew MacDermott (David’s brother), who were interested in value adding to products from the local fishing industry.
Buying leftover skins from local fishing operations for 50 per kilo, which would otherwise have been sent to the rubbish tip, Mr MacDermott said the company had a cheap starting point for the products.
The company’s founders started Mermaid Marine Leather with no prior knowledge of the fish skin tanning process. Mr MacDermott said it took
four years of non-profit research and development before the company began marketing fish leather, followed by a further two years of refining the process, which takes about six weeks overall.
The company now sells to what Mr MacDermott decribes as “specialist individuals” who create hand-made leather goods for high-end or niche markets.
Recent sales have included boutique shoe designers in Italy, a South Australian hand-crafted furniture company and a company that creates hand crafted, ‘one-off’ leather golf putters.
Mermaid Marine Leather also manufactures its own products including wallets, shoes, purses, buttons and key rings, which account for 50 per cent of the product its sells.
While much of the marketing effort has been through word of mouth, Mr MacDermott said the company also worked with the local tourism industry hosting tours through its factory for tour buses and school children.
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