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Skyeskyns

Established in 1983, Skyeskyns is a family tanning and retail business specialising in rare breed skins.

Taking an innovate approach to environmental change

Skyeskyns is the only remaining commercial woolskin tannery in Scotland. Based in Waternish on the Isle of Skye with an additional retail outlet in Portree, the business has been in operation for 37 years.

It is now managed by the second generation of the Hartwell family producing and stocking high quality, hand-crafted sheepskin and woollen goods.

In 2018, the family identified a more environmentally friendly process by switching from mineral-based tanning process to a plant-based process known as veg tan which uses mimosa bark. This change would also lead to an increase in production and business growth.  

To achieve this innovate change, the business turned to HIE for support.

HIE was already supporting Skyeskyns through account management, helping the business to identify growth opportunities. They have a dedicated account manager who introduced them to HIE's innovation support which could help the business take the next steps on their journey. 

The business needed access to specialist expertise, and time to conduct extensive testing with tanning mixes, to ensure product quality was maintained before entering the commercial environment. Working through this process took the business a year, with HIE's help. 

What kind of support did they benefit from? 

Skyeskyns received research funding which enabled the tanners to contact experts for specific knowledge – the input of the Northampton Institute of Creative Leather Technology was invaluable. Coming under HIE's Innovation team wing also created space for the tanners to achieve the right mix of tanning agents and ensure consistent quality.

Dave Till, Skyskyns General Manager said: 

“We knew the trial and error phase would take a while, but it was more time-consuming than we expected,” .

Switching to veg tan has resulted in a more efficient effluent system. With the mineral process, the waste sediment had to be reduced to cake form and shipped by specialist hauliers for safe re-processing. Because of the businesses remote location, this system cost £8,000.

Now, the effluent is drained through a reed bed and the sediment is used as fertiliser, creating a highly efficient circular economy. And because considerably less water passes through the sediment tanks, it means faster turnaround, facilitating increased production.

“The main driver for making the change was the environmental impact,” says Dave, “but the cost benefits were a bonus.”

Veg tan produces a different finish – while it preserves the colour of the wool, the leather is softer, more flexible, and a natural, creamy brown colour, rather than the whitish result created by the previous mineral processes.

Skyeskyns products are machine washable – their innovative processing ensures that the tan doesn’t wash out of the leather; it retains its soft, supple character and preservative properties, and is protected from hardening and deterioration.

Diligence and hard work eventually achieved the optimum balance essential to maintain the high standards of product quality and functionality.

From Dave’s perspective, the experience of working with HIE's innovation team has been invaluable:

“It enabled us to be very thorough in our testing, and gave us the space to get the results we wanted before taking on the commercial pressures. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend contacting the Innovation team.”