NAWAL ALLAOUI: THE AFRICAN WOMAN WHO CONVERTS FISH WASTE INTO LUXURY LEATHER
In the Africa Youth Conference which was held last year October at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya, Nawal Allaoui was among the winners awarded USD10,000 grant to scale up their businesses in an open innovation challenge led by UN Women and UNDP. The challenge was aimed at awarding grant financing to help African youth entrepreneurs develop and execute their novel ideas and solutions in addressing SDG challenges in their various communities.
According to UN Environment, the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water producing 20% of wastewater while at the same time generating very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Seen as a global concern, there is a need for fashion brands to be mindful of their environment as they are a major contributor to air, water and soil pollution.
Calling for the fashion industry to take up better consumer choices, Nawal Alloui took this opportunity to address this challenge in her community. The social entrepreneur, engineer and PhD student, in a sit-down with UN Women, had this to say.
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.
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 diffuses 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.
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!
PHOTO CREDIT: Challenge.ma