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These sustainable sneakers use an invasive species for leather

The lionfish is responsible for killing 79 percent of baby reef fish.

Inversa Leathers and P448 come together to make sneakers using lionfish leather.
Inversa Leathers

A sneaker made from lionfish leather may set off an animal rights activist, but it’s actually doing marine wildlife a favor. The ocean predator responsible for killing 79 percent of baby reef fish is now being used by Inversa Leathers as a leather alternative for its sneakers.

Predator becomes prey — The Florida-based startup founded by scuba divers has partnered with Italian sneaker brand P448 to bring the lionfish sneakers to market. The classic, fuss-less silhouette will release in five different colors: red, pink, blue, silver, and black. Its base is white, perforated with P448’s signature branding, and fitted with the dyed fish leather on the heel. Each pair is equivalent to one lionfish removed from the oceans, thus saving thousands of native species.

Inversa

Sourced by responsible divers, no part of the fish is wasted as Inversa’s sister company Saltino Seafood sells its fillets to restaurants and the remainder is used for bait and oils. The skin is then shipped to tanners in Ohio to use with eco-friendly practices.

Each lionfish hide takes less than a cup of water to tan and produces an average of 55 square inches of material. Although the leather was used for small wallets and goods at first, partnering with knowledgable brands has allowed Inversa to fully optimize the material.

How did they get there? — The lionfish, native to coral reefs in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, was discovered in the Caribbean and up the East Coast in the 1980s, although it’s unclear whether it was led there on purpose or on accident. Regardless, the effects are detrimental to coral reefs, as the invasive species is wiping out native fish and disrupting food chains.

Inversa Leather

Deepika Nagarajan, chief marketing officer for Inversa Leathers, told WWD it was time to “step up to the responsibility” of the “human-caused problem” and create a “cool fashion product that is also saving the planet.” The brand is also gearing up to announce another collection soon using a new material sourced from other invasive species.

Given that there’s no shortage of lionfish — females lay up to 25,000 eggs every few days — the start-up could open the door for other brands to follow suit. The fashion industry has already caught on to the unsustainable practice of traditional leather, tapping into other alternatives from mushrooms to pineapples.

Inversa and P448’s lionfish leather sneakers will drop in a limited run on June 28. They retail for $325 and can be found online and from various P448 stockists.