September 13, 2007 / 8:24 AM / 12 years ago

Something's fishy about that Thai bikini

A worker de-bones a Tilapia fish at a factory in Phetchburi province, 135 km south of Bangkok on September 12, 2007. Smelly fish skin once tossed away or sold to street vendors for cheap food has become a highly desirable product used to make designer handbags, shoes and even bikinis. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters Life!) - Smelly fish skin once tossed away or sold to street vendors for cheap food has become a highly desirable product used to make designer handbags, shoes and even bikinis.

Thai entrepreneurs have developed a way of processing skins of the tropical tilapia fish to make durable leather.

“We tried to make something that was worth nothing into something valuable,” said Anchali Chatrakul Na Ayudyha, a businesswoman who sells tilapia skin goods on her Web site, www.angieandpenny.com.

The fish-skin bikini was unveiled at a Bangkok fashion show last month and its makers are hoping for orders from Europe and the United States for the unique product.

“It’s comfortable. The bikini can really breathe,” said Sudarat Sae-lim, modelling the scaly, cobalt-blue two-piece. “I like that it’s waterproof, it means it can dry more easily.”

Fish sellers in Petchaburi, 120 km southwest of Bangkok, used to sell the tilapia skins for just a few cents per kilo to street vendors who would fry them up as a cheap snack.

Now each skin fetches around $1.25, and is dried, treated and dyed to make products from key-rings to couches. One bikini needs 15 fish skins to make, and will go on sale for $75.

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