Europe’s Only Fish Tannery
Five Years from Fish Soup to Soft Leather
June 10th marked the official opening of Sútarinn, the last remaining Icelandic tannery and now econo-museum. The for-profit museum guides guests through the tanning process from stripping the fat off translucent fish skins to adding finishing details to dried skins. The idea to start a museum came when visitors to the town of Sauðarkrókur got wind that Europeʼs only fish leather tannery was operating nearby. Last year, Sútarinn received between four and five thousand visitors. It was then that they had to decide whether to open their doors completely or firmly shut the tannery to guests.
A Crazy Invention
Aided by IMPRA, a branch of the Icelandic Innovation Centre committed to aiding companies starting new projects and work developed by entrepreneurs and inventors, Sútarinn has grown from an experiment in the inventive search for new materials into a rapidly developing for-profit museum. While other tanneries struggled to compete with each other, Sútarinn opted for a new approach and began working with fish skins in 1989.
“People thought that we were crazy in those early years,” grins Gunnsteinn, owner of both companies working at Sútarinn: Atlantic Leather and Loðskinn. “All we had at first was thousands of litres of fish soup.” Five years later, they had developed a process and created Atlantic Leather. By 2000, their fish leather had the same softness as leather from cows and no residual smell; the process was perfected and Sútarinn remained the only tannery left in Iceland.
A Rare View of Tanning
Sútarinnʼs determination has made it what it is today and is part of the reason for the econo-museum, which gives visitors a rare view of tanning from start to finish. Sútarinn combines their tannery tour with a historical overview of tanning in Iceland. Sútarinn has tools used in tanning, early photographs, and clothes produced from old tanneries that were donated by Glaumbaer, which collaborates in projects to preserve Skagafjörðurʼs history.
Sútarinn uses fish skin, which would otherwise be thrown away. Most of its fish skins come from a factory in Dalvik, a town one hour away. The majority of skins are exported, but some Icelandic designers have decided to work with the new material. A shop in Sútarinn features products from Icelandic designers and fish skins themselves for purchase. Traditional double face sheepskins, calf skins, and ostrich skins are also processed at the tannery.
Borgarmýri 5 • 550 Sauðárkrókur
+354 512 8025