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Skyeskyns

Rooted in its island landscape, Skyeskyns takes a caring and sustainable approach to the environment.

Products made with care for quality and sustainability

Established in 1983, in the coastal village of Waternish on the Isle of Skye, Skyeskyns is now the sole remaining commercial woolskin tannery in Scotland. 

Created and developed by Clive and Lydia Hartwell, today, the second generation of the Hartwell family is helping to steer the business through the 21st Century, producing and stocking the highest quality, hand-crafted sheepskins and other sustainably made woollen clothing and home accessories.

Skyeskyns sources its skins in the Highlands, keeping transport miles to a minimum and ensuring that all the animal is being used, preventing skins from being exported overseas and keeping the money in the local economy.

Taking an innovate approach to environmental change

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 working with Skyeskyns to identify growth opportunities. Their dedicated account manager 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 Skyeskyns 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."

 

 

 

The main driver for making the change was the environmental impact, but the cost benefits were a bonus.
Dave Till, general manager, Skyeskyns

The Impacts

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.

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," he said.

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