A Sacramento-area startup that makes fish-skin leather is raising money and trying to scale up.
«y Emily Hamann
– Staff Writer, Sacramento Business Journal
Nodar Narsavidze, co-founder and managing partner of Aquaborne, said the company is planning on launching its public fundraising round on crowdfunding website Wefunder on March 15.
The company has developed a method of tanning fish skin into leather. The skins are waste products created by Sacramento aquaculture companies.
Local caviar companies farm sturgeon in contained tanks. The fish are usually killed as part of the process of harvesting caviar. Their skins are a byproduct sometimes used in products like pet food, but usually thrown away.
"Working with aquaculture, I see an enormous amount of byproduct being generated on an annual basis," Narsavidze said.
Narsavidze and some of his family previously launched a caviar brand called AmStur in 2014. It sources its caviar from the Sacramento region and other American sources. The name "AmStur" comes from the combination of "American" and "sturgeon" and works to raise the profile of U.S. caviar in the international market.
"No one knew that caviar could come from California," Narsavidze said.
The Sacramento region is the largest producer of caviar in the U.S.
Narsavidze said he's currently in talks with a number of local fisheries and aquaculture companies to source fish skin.
Aquaborne is looking to raise at least $375,000 through Wefunder, although it's ideally looking for $850,000. If successful, Aquaborne will begin buying equipment and hiring. Narsavidze said the company can go into production within eight months of receiving funding. He said the equipment has already been identified, the tanning materials have already been sourced and Aquaborne is actively searching for manufacturing space. Narsavidze is planning on around 3,500 square feet, with room to expand.
He said Aquaborne is working to initially market its leather wholesale to fashion, decor and other companies, but as it grows, Narsavidze plans for Aquaborne to begin manufacturing its own finished goods.
Narsavidze worked with Akhmed Shadiev, an entrepreneur with decades of experience in the leather industry, to develop the process to tan sturgeon skin. Narsavidze said he funded the research and development process himself.
Fish leather isn't a completely new innovation. It's often made from skins of fish like salmon and perch. Fashion brands including Nike, Prada and Adidas have already incorporated fish leather into some of their designs.
Narsavidze said Aquaborne's innovation is in the environmentally friendly process of tanning fish skin, especially from sturgeon, which because of its texture, is particularly challenging.
Sturgeon skin has no scales, and because the fish are adapted to bottom-feeding, their skin is strong enough to withstand the pressure of deep under the water. Narsavidze said sturgeon skin is many times stronger than cow or pig hide.
Aquaborne's process for tanning fish skin also doesn't use any of the strong chemicals used in conventional cowhide tanning — under California law, some leather products sold in the state must be labeled as having the potential to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Aquaborne's products don't contain those chemicals, and so don't require that label.