Why You Should Be Wearing Cork

This article was kindly sponsored by Corkor. 

Chances are that by now you’ve heard about cork as one of the most sustainable and unique textiles in vegan fashion, but you may be wondering what exactly is cork, why is it considered sustainable, and – honestly – is it something you’d actually want to wear? 

As a total tree-hugger myself (always figuratively, sometimes literally), I am excited to dive into what’s so special about this hug-worthy fabric. 

So, what is cork? 

What we call “cork” is actually the bark of the cork oak tree. Unlike with other plant-based textiles, the tree does not have to be cut down in order to be turned into a bag or the stopper in your wine. Instead, the bark is carefully removed by skilled professionals, allowing the tree to remain unharmed and a new layer of bark to grow back through this renewable process.

The cork oak typically lives about 200 years, and the bark can be harvested every 7 – 10 years, supplying cork for many generations. The prime time to harvest is around the nine year mark, when the tree is in a more active stage of growth and it’s easier to peel the bark off without damaging the trunk. I love that this is something that is taken into consideration. 

Globally, there’s an estimated 2.3 million hectares of cork oak forest (in case you’re trying to visualize how big that is – it’s pretty big). Of those, about 716,000 hectares are located in Portugal, making up 22.5% of the national forest area. Portugal accounts for half of the world’s cork production, not to mention it’s home the world’s oldest bookstore, too (okay that’s totally unrelated, but, I was just impressed by it). 

Every time a cork oak tree is harvested, it absorbs extra CO2 to aid the bark’s regeneration process. So, regularly harvested cork oak trees store three to five times more CO2 than those left unharvested. Since only the bark is removed to obtain the cork, the tree goes on living and helping us clean our air, which is kind of like a win win. 

Beyond just environmental sustainability, the extraction of cork directly supports the local Portuguese economy, allowing for thousands of people to earn a dignified living in otherwise deserted areas of Portugal. So basically, this is a fiber you really can feel good about wearing.

But is it fashionable?

When I first learned about cork bags a few years ago I was a bit skeptical – sure I loved the sustainability of this leather alternative, but all the styles I saw were a bit… lacking. Fortunately, brands like Corkor are bringing a modern twist to this gorgeous material. 

There are a lot of cork designs available these days, but one of the things that really sets Corkor apart is that they own their own workshop, which means they produce everything they sell and have tight control over every aspect of production. This translated into higher quality and enables them to ensure that their skilled artisans are fairly paid in accordance with European wage standards. And it’s not just their workshop that sets them apart, it’s their cork too. Corkor uses only top quality, certified cork baring the FSC® certification stamp. The FSC‘s strict environmental, social, and economic standards covers much more than the trees: it makes sure that local communities are respected, endangered habitats are protected, plant and animal species are preserved, and workers are properly paid. This is part of Corkor’s commitment to a sustainably managed forest, properly preserving them for future generations (thank you, Corkor!). 

 

I am also really impressed with the consideration that goes into the small details of each of their products: 95% of their raw material is bought in Europe, which leads to fuel savings and CO2 emissions reduction. They use water based glue instead of solvent base glues, which means artisans and our air are spared from noxious and flammable fumes. Even their inks are ecological, and the water used in the dying process is reused to cut down on waste. Plus – and perhaps best of all – while many cork companies use leather accents, Corkor’s products are 100% animal free, and they are PETA-approved vegan.  

And on top of all of that, they have really sleek, beautiful designs. A few of my favorite styles (hey, the holidays are coming up!) are the Front Pocket Cork Wallet (for those of us who travel light) and the Cork Clutch (for day-to-night versatility). Both come in a variety of colors, but black for me of course, please.  

The final word on why you should be wearing cork 

Okay so you probably get what I’m trying to say: cork is sustainable, it’s pretty, but is it practical? I’m pleased to say: yes, too!

A few unique properties of cork fashion are:

  • It’s very lightweight, so you back will thank you.
  • It’s easy to clean (just a damp cloth will do!), so it’s a long-lasting investment.
  • It’s hypoallergenic and doesn’t absorb dust, so it’s especially great for those with allergies and asthma.
  • It’s super soft to the touch, no explanation needed.
  • It’s water repellant and fire retardant, for those with much more exciting lifestyles than me.
 
 

To find out more about Corkor and shop their full collection, you can visit them here.

 

This article has affiliate links. Photo by Corkor.

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Sica Schmitz

Sica Schmitz is the founder and curator of Bead & Reel, the online ethical boutique for eco-friendly, cruelty-free, sweatshop-free fashion, and the winner of the 2017 Sustainable Business Council's Sustainable Business Award. With a background in costume design and sustainable styling, she is active in fair trade and vegan fashion both locally and globally as a Fair Trade LA board member, the Fashion Editor of Vilda Magazine, and the founder and host of the annual Fair Trade Fashion Show Fundraiser in Los Angeles. A frequent speaker and writer, she has been featured in dozens of publications including Bustle, Origin Magazine, The Good Trade, and Vegan Life Magazine.

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