A young entrepreneur from Stroud has landed a national award for innovation thanks to her idea of turning fish skins in to leather wallets and card cases.
Antonia Gillett, 28, won a Young Innovators Award from Innovate UK for setting up a business tanning waste fish skins to make fish leather.
Based in Stroud, her business Felsie is the first dedicated fish skin tannery in the UK and has pledged to give back 50 percent of profits to UK river conservation projects.
The Young Innovators Award includes a £5,000 grant, one-on-one business coaching, and an allowance to cover living costs.
Innovate UK, in partnership with the Prince’s Trust, helps aspiring young entrepreneurs from all backgrounds to take their businesses to the next level through their Young Innovators programme.
Antonia said: “When I found out I’d won the award I was so surprised.
“It felt exciting to know that the judges saw potential in my idea. I’m really grateful to have this opportunity from Innovate UK and hope it will help me grow my business. The living allowance has already allowed me to dedicate time to work on my business idea which is brilliant.
“I never set out to be an entrepreneur but having lost my job in Zambia at the beginning of the pandemic I suddenly had free time and started experimenting with fish skin tanning.
“I’ve always loved making things and as soon as I had some good fish leather I tried sewing a wallet as a present for my dad. I’m really enjoying being able to work creatively on my own ideas.
“It’s challenging as I find myself always doing new things but I love the variation. I want to encourage other young people to follow their interests and start side hustles; it can be so rewarding.”
Antonia makes her fish leather products by hand, in her workshop, right from raw fish skins through to finished products.
Felsie aims to be a sustainable business and all the materials are sourced in Britain.
The salmon skins are a by-product of the food industry and would otherwise be thrown in the bin.
The bark tanning of the skins is a traditional process using bark from willow trees which is a by-product of the cricket bat industry.
Antonia also wants to celebrate the material by using only fish leather in her products rather than mixing it with other leathers which are often done.
She also believes that business can be a force for good.
Antonia has pledged to donate 50 per cent of profits to support two charities that work to protect our UK rivers: the Wye and Usk Foundation and the Missing Salmon Alliance.
She added: “Our wild salmon populations are really struggling and the species could go extinct within my lifetime
“I want to make a positive impact with my fish leather business Felsie which is why I’m supporting the conservation of our rivers.
“I also want to save as many fish skins from going in the bin as possible. It’s amazing to be able to take waste and use it to create something beautiful which gives back.”
Having just launched her website and deep in the design process, Antonia hopes to be able to launch her first product in the spring with the help of the Young Innovators programme.