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How Kenyan Entrepreneur Earns Big From Dried Fish Skin

Newton Owino
Newton Owino from Kenya has a very unusual business. He lives in Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya, the principal city of western Kenya, where he makes bags, shoes and belts — from fish skin, scales and innards!

Turning waste into products

Every week, 35-year-old Newton tans about 15 tons of fish skins, turns them into marketable products, and exports the products to Denmark, Italy and the U.S. The tanning is all done by hand and represents a detailed process that turns the skins into fine leather. Salt and banana extract is added to reduce the bacterial infection on the skin, eliminate fish odor, and strengthen the fiber.

The cost of the products that Newton makes range from between Sh1,500 and Sh6,000 each (about $14 to $58 USD). All of the materials he uses are readily available, in fact, they are considered fish waste from perch, catfish and others. One recent order he completed to ship to California included 400 bags at Sh1,500 each. He also points out that the shoes he makes from fish skins are waterproof and do not need to be polished.

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Some of the fish skins he gets for free from fish-processing plants who are glad to get rid of them. Although many thought he was crazy at first, his idea has really paid off. As he explains, “In 2013, I started exporting my products and made Sh13.7 million. In 2014, I made Sh14.1 million and last year it reached Sh21 million,” he says.

Higher education helped

Newton studied studying leather chemistry at G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (Pantnagar) in India. He worked as a research scientist for 11 years at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

Now he is in business for himself and has a staff of 7 full-time employees. His goal is to soon open a shoe manufacturing company using his refined process.

Watch the video below:

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