Upcycling discarded fish scales into trendy accessories

Crafty elder: Yang fastening an earring she made on a girl at Kampung Orang Asli Kampung Batu, Johor Baru. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

JOHOR BARU: Typically, scales are discarded once they are taken off fish. However, an Orang Asli woman has discovered a creative way to transform this waste into fashionable accessories.

Yang Tom, a 61-year-old villager from Kampung Orang Asli Bakar Batu, said she has been making sustainable accessories such as earrings and keychains from fish scales for the past few years.

“I got the idea after seeing the men in my village, who are mostly fishermen, descaling their catch of the day before they are sold.

“The scales of the siakap (seabass) are big and round. I imagined they would look good if they were turned into accessories instead of just being thrown away.

“So, I collected the scales and washed them before spreading them out to dry under the sun.

“This hardens the scales to make them easier to work with,” she said when interviewed by The Star.

Yang, who is from a community of Orang Seletar or Orang Laut (sea people), said she then fixed the scales according to her desired designs, setting them into place with a hot glue gun.

She added that she would sometimes paint the fish scales to give the products a more attractive colour.

“I come up with the designs myself through trial and error, as I have never taken any handicraft courses.

“I told myself that if others could produce their own handicraft, so could I.

“Besides earrings, I have also made the fish scales into brooches as gifts or souvenirs.

“The earrings are only sold for RM10 a pair, which is cheap considering that they are unique souvenirs from my village,” she said.

Yang, a mother of two, said her creations, including hand-woven traditional headgear, had previously been showcased at Orang Asli exhibitions in Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur before the Covid-19 pandemic.

She hoped that the government agencies would consider organising proper handicraft courses to help the villagers, especially the womenfolk, refine their craft.

“Maybe one day, our village can produce our own signature handicraft for visitors to purchase because many non-governmental organisations, as well as students on field trips, visit us often for activities and programmes.

“This will help to generate income for the village and equip the villagers with more skills,” she said.

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