Trout skin for shoes

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LARRABURU MAULEON-LICHARRE, FRANCE • A French shoe manufacturer is urging fashionistas to take the plunge with what he claims is the world's first range of trout skin espadrille shoes.

Mr Jean-Jacques Houyou has set out to persuade his compatriots that they should be wearing trout rather than merely eating them with a caper and black butter sauce. The stack-heeled women's sandals in seven colours will go on sale in France this summer, selling for about €120 (S$180) a pair.

He has sourced salmon trout for the shoes - whose skins he says are particularly beautiful - from the cold mountain streams of the renowned Banca valley in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the French Basque country.

All come from the Goicoechea family's fish farm, whose trout are prized by gourmets.

He admitted, however, that making the espadrilles was an "extremely exacting process, the most difficult thing is to find two skins with the same marks which makes each pair so original".

"Every pair is different because of the material itself," he said of the handmade shoes which are lined with goat skin. He has previously made Japanese-style sandals with salmon skin at his small factory in Mauleon, the centre of France's espadrille industry.

Most of his 10 shoemakers work in their homes turning out 20,000 pairs of espadrilles a year, which traditionally have soles made of jute. But he has used cork to sole the trout-skin shoes.

Espadrilles, often made of canvas, can trace their lineage back 4,000 years and are still hugely popular summer shoes. They are also much more eco-friendly than mass-market footwear which is difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to recycle.

Several luxury shoe brands have also embraced what they term "fish leather" for their shoes, with the Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik once creating €800-a-pair sandals for an "eco shoes" range.

Fish-skin boots have been worn for thousands of years by the Inuits and fish-skin shoes were common in Germany during World War II when cow leather ran out.

Environmentalists say that countless tonnes of tannable fish skins are discarded every year because the public still worries wrongly that they might smell fishy.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Trout skin for shoes'. Print Edition | Subscribe