In the words of Nawal Allaoui: 'My innovation entails turning fish waste into luxury leather'

The fashion industry is a major contributor to air, water and soil pollution. For example, according to UN Environment, the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water producing 20% of waste water while at the same time generating very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This being a global concern, there are several grassroots and global initiatives calling on fashion brands to be mindful of the environment and advocating for better consumer choices. Many times, when people purchase items from the shops or markets, hardly any thought is put into the processes in which the products are manufactured.

Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Nawal exhibits her products during the Africa Youth Conference in Nairobi. Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

Nawal exhibits her products during the Africa Youth Conference in Nairobi. Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

Nawal Allaoui, is a 26-year old social entrepreneur,engineer and PHD student working to address this challenge in her home country of Morocco.

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My innovation focuses on recycling fish waste into leather products by using sustainable and environmentally friendly processes, hence reducing up to 95% of the quantities of water used in the leather industry. Producing about 1000 fish skin pieces per month, I have consequently created a niche for myself, as my products are 100 % natural-based using plants like henna. There are several other methods of tanning; but I chose dry or natural tanning because, as compared to other methods which are much more expensive and waste more water, this method uses less water and is less expensive, making it perfect for the environment’ says the young.

Nawal is congratulated for her innovation by UN Women Regional director for West and Central Africa, Diana Ofwona. Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

Nawal is congratulated for her innovation by UN Women Regional director for West and Central Africa, Diana Ofwona. Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

I work with five women at my plant in the coastal region of Casablanca to come up with several luxury fashion products including wallets, card holders, key holders and the Moroccan shoes commonly known as babouche.  Specifically, I chose to work with women because while men are primarily the fishermen and spent most of the time in high seas, once the fish is brought ashore, it is the women who are tasked with the clearing and processing the catch for the market. This therefore presents a perfect group to work with in identifying and sorting the fish skin.

When asked if the smell of fish affects her business, Nawal chuckles and responds that ‘...even though they are made from fish skin, our products do not smell like fish because they are mixed with other natural products and oils during the processing which diffuse the smell…’

While working as a volunteer at a social entrepreneurship Non -Governmental Organization (NGO), I worked with women at the coastal areas and was exposed to the effects that the fish industry had on the environment. Armed with this knowledge, and after conducting a needs assessment to assess the situation, I realized that there was an enormous problem. The environmental impact- air and water pollution- of the fish industry lit a bulb. This is when ‘Seaskin’ was born.

Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo
Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

I am currently looking for more opportunities to work with UN Women and other interested partners to further scale up this venture. I am grateful to everyone that’s interested in working with me to create SeaSkin branches in other countries. I am also looking for markets for my products which are a more sustainable and eco-friendly option.I use online platforms to market my products, as this has more reach.

To the young people in Africa who are afraid to dive into the unknown, my advice is  Do not care about people’s opinions. If you want to create change, JUST DO IT!


SDG 5: Gender equality

Nawal was one of the winners awarded USD10,000 grant financing – during the Africa Youth Conference - to scale up their businesses in an open innovation challenge; for youth-led social entrepreneurs who are addressing development challenges in Africa. The challenge (which was led by UN Women and UNDP) conducted business development and training sessions and awarded grant financing to help African youth entrepreneurs develop and implement their innovative solutions that address SDG challenges in their communities, especially those targeted at bridging the gender gap.