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

Based in Waternish on the Isle of Skye, it has an additional retail outlet in Portree. In 2018, 35 years of development and growth led to a major business innovation decision.

How did Skyeskyns find out about HIE Innovation support?

As a HIE account managed company, Skyeskyns learned about the Innovation team from their account manager. It took the business a year to complete the innovation process.

Why did you choose to access Innovation support?

Skyeskyns wanted to improve its environmental credentials and increase production capability by switching from mineral-based (Chrome 3) tanning to a plant-based process – known as veg tan – using mimosa bark. The business needed access to specialist expertise, plus time to conduct extensive testing with tanning mixes, to ensure product quality was maintained before entering the commercial environment.

What support did the team provide?

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 the Innovation team wing also created space for the tanners to achieve the right mix of tanning agents and ensure consistent quality. “We knew the trial and error phase would take a while, but it was more time-consuming than we expected,” commented general manager Dave Till.

What benefits have resulted from your involvement with the Innovation team?

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 its remote location, this system cost the business £8k.

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 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.

What would you say to other businesses considering approaching the Innovation team?

From Dave’s perspective, the experience 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.”