With two billion pounds of waste generated by the seafood industry in Alaska alone, finding creative ways to repurpose this waste represents an economic opportunity as well as an environmental imperative. We’ve seen shrimp shells turned into everything from bioplastic to solar cells … but upcycling seafood byproducts into clothing likely wouldn’t be a top-of-mind solution for most people.
But Alaskan startup Tidal Vision has set about doing just that, and is working to combat this waste issue by purchasing the byproducts from sustainable fisheries and developing various textiles — such as salmon leather and a soft fabric made from chitosan, the main component of shrimp and crab shells — for use in apparel and accessories (and the company insists that you’d never smell the difference).
Tidal Vision’s mission extends beyond waste reduction. It wants to give sustainable fisheries — which are often at an economic disadvantage relative to their competitors — a leg up by injecting an additional revenue stream from the sale of their waste products. The company sees economic resilience and a higher-value business model for sustainable fisheries as key to ensuring our ocean’s resources are protected.
Sustainable Brands caught up with Tidal Vision’s founder and president, Craig Kasberg, to hear more about the company’s mission.
Tidal Vision’s fishery waste-based products are still in development. Where are you in the process of launching?
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Craig Kasberg: We have been tweaking our prototype designs for the last six months, to get everything ready to go for full production.
Alaska salmon season takes off in June. We’re all ready to go into full production with our tanning process. Right now, we’re having different domestic handmade leather good manufacturers make prototypes of our salmon leather product designs. We are comparing the factories’ craftsmanship quality with price of production, to determine the best fit for Tidal Vision.
Our chitosan fiber apparel fabrics have been a battle to get ready. We didn’t want to simply coat a non-sustainable fabric with our chitosan to get its odorless properties temporarily. We wanted to physically extrude our chitosan into a fiber form so we could structurally blend with tencel or organic cotton while making the yarn used to knit our fabric. This method not only allows us to utilize more crab and shrimp shells, but also makes it so the chitosan does not wash out or wear off.
Our first chitosan fabric prototypes did not maintain their shape as we hoped. We had to go back to the drawing board a few times. We’re excited now with our latest test sample fabrics. Our latest samples are soft and breathable, wick moisture, and naturally completely inhibit bacteria growth – making our apparel fabric odorless. Much like the odorless clothing fabrics that are injected with silver, but our fabric does not release a heavy metal into waterways during washing and wearing out.
What was the motivation for focusing on seafood byproducts for use in fashion and apparel?
CK: I really wanted to reduce waste and encourage sustainable fishing practices. I grew up living in a coastal community that relies on the ocean’s resources. I have commercial fished for a living in Alaska since I was 15 years old, in some of the most beautiful and treacherous bodies of water in the world. The ocean as always been a direct influence on my life and I’ve spent years brainstorming how I could help it.
Fishing operations that are managed sustainably face a huge economic disadvantage compared to their competitors that use more effective but habitat-damaging fishing methods, pollute the environment, and imbalance ecosystems. Sustainable fishing operations have to pay the salaries of ocean biologists to manage the populations of both targeted species and bycatch species, do not harvest during certain breeding seasons, and only harvest with fishing methods that minimize bycatch and do not damage the habitat.
My dream is to advance ocean byproduct utilization so Tidal Vision can level the economic playing field for sustainable fisheries. As we grow, we hope to be able to incentivize more operations to follow suit, and start prioritizing sustainability. We have a long way to go, but we hope our products visually represent ocean sustainability and that our consumers are as passionate as we are in spreading the word about the ocean’s issues.
What sorts of byproducts does Tidal Vision plan on recycling, and what do you plan on creating from them?
CK: Right now we’re upcycling crab shells and salmon skins into chitosan fiber fabrics and salmon leather.
Our Alaska salmon leather products are amazingly durable. It smells very similar to vegetable-tanned cow leather since many of the same oils are used in the tanning process. We are starting by manufacturing accessories such as wallets, bags, and belts. We will also have very limited production runs of handmade Goodyear welt construction shoes and boots available online soon.
For our chitosan fiber fabrics, Tidal Vision is planning on starting with a line of men’s and women’s long-sleeve shirts and T-shirts. Due to the softness and odorless properties of our fabrics, in the future we will also produce underwear, socks, base layers and more shirts.
How does the cost of using these waste products compare to conventional production processes? Does the recovery and recycling involved in the design offset the savings from using waste materials?
CK: At low volumes, our production costs will be above average compared to traditional cotton T-shirts, or cow leather wallets. We plan to price our products to be as accessible as possible, because the more we sell, the more byproducts we can buy from sustainable fishing operations. By cutting out the middlemen and selling direct to consumers online we hope to accomplish both.
If we can create enough consumer demand for these byproducts, then production costs will be significantly cheaper than producing commercial agriculture crops or farm animals for apparel and accessory products.
Tidal Vision pledges to use only byproducts from sustainably managed fisheries — how can you guarantee this responsible sourcing? Do you work specifically with certain fisheries you know to be environmentally and ethically conscious?
CK: Yes, we only work with transparent fisheries and the companies that process their fish at the location of harvest. We designed our business model to ensure we have the flexibility to continue operating with these principals.
Tidal Vision is building its facility for removing chitosan from crab or shrimp shells in a Conex shipping container. This gives us the flexibility to ship the chitosan processor to different locations by truck or barge if a fishery stops meeting requirements, seasons change, or climate change affects populations in that area and sustainable operations are forced to shut down.
Tidal Vision’s number one core value was to only use byproducts from sustainable fisheries, because otherwise, what is the point? Yes, reducing waste is great, and fish waste can pose an environmental threat, but I do not feel that alone it accomplishes much.
What’s next for Tidal Vision?
CK: We have lots of dreams for the future and see many more potential uses for ocean byproducts. But at this point in time, we need to buckle down and make sure we produce the highest-quality products possible when we launch.
Our first products will be available in May on Kickstarter and we ask that those interested sign up for updates at prelaunch.tidalvisionusa.com.