environment2020/11/30

Cork: The Journey Towards The Ultimate Sustainable Material

Photographs by Miguel Chimali

As we understand further the impact that our choices have on the environment and the planet, we are also learning a shift in materials is called for. The voracity with which society consumes available resources is not without consequences. It's only now that we are beginning to realize our responsibility when purchasing a product.

In today's world, when a group of people big enough demands a certain product, the market does not take long to respond with something that suits their needs. Until now these needs were limited solely to the product and the use that could be given to it. However, in recent years, new sustainable materials are being used to create more eco-friendly products.

While materials such as recycled PU/PVC leathers, innovative textiles made from recycled plastics and leather made from recycled leather fibres are a perfectly valid option to recycle our waste, as long as there is an industry that recycles these materials, there will be another industry that manufactures them. The question we have to ask is: Is it possible to recycle all of our non-organic waste?

Until this is a reality, products made from cork offer an alternative with a material that is recyclable, renewable, organic, biodegradable and 100% environmentally friendly.

Cork: one of the most eco-friendly and reliable resources on the planet.

At the forefront of this material revolution, cork represents one of our most sustainable options.

Cork is a naturally harvested material that comes from the bark of cork oak trees. These are trees native to the southwest of Europe and northwest of Africa. Because it is just a harvest (the tree keeps on living and helping to clean our air), it is one of the most highly renewable and eco-friendly resources available. 

In fact, the harvesting of cork actually helps in the fight against global warming. The reason? Like other trees, cork oak trees convert CO2 into oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. However, cork trees require the capturing of an additional amount of CO2 while growing the bark back. 

But it gets more interesting: counting that each tree can be harvested every nine years and that they can live up to 200 years, one single tree allows about 17 to 20 bark collections, meaning that harvested cork trees absorb 3 to 5 times more CO2 than unharvested trees. 

With all this, it is estimated that cork oak tree forests can absorb 14 million tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of 20% of the CO2 emissions emitted by cars in the UK. During a whole year!  

Cork in fashion - a new type of uniqueness.

Does the market decide what the public consumes or the consumer dictates what the market must provide? Either way, the fashion industry is also responding with greener products to the consumers' new need for contributing positively to the environment.

During the last decade, different fashion brands have developed products that use cork fabric not only because it is more sustainable but also as a more natural alternative. In this context, independent sustainable brands are embracing the natural pattern present in each bit of the cork fabric to create exclusive and non-replicable products.

Emerging cruelty-free brands like Murmali take a step further by creating high-end, handcrafted cork accessories. This British brand outsources the manufacturing of their collection to small workshops located in the Alentejo, Portugal, a location known for its cork goods tradition and its artisan craftsmen.

Ok, that’s awesome, but is cork fabric as reliable as leather?

We all have heard Henry Ford's famous quote: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

And we could not agree more. Although we currently live in one of the most creative times, still, when we get used to certain norms, it is really hard to imagine a change. The truth is that cork is not just a real alternative to leather but also presents some other advantages:

  • Cork is water-resistant: Cork is naturally resistant to moisture. The suberin (a waterproofing substance) is present in the cells of cork, making it impermeable to liquids.
  • Cork is extremely light: This is one of our favourites. Who wants to carry a bag that weighs more than the stuff inside the bag? This is possible because over 50% of its composition is actually air.
  • Cork is Scratch resistant: Thanks to its honeycomb structure, cork is highly abrasion resistant and has a high friction coefficient. This basically means your keys will not scratch your cork handbag.
  • Cork is Stain resistant: Although it is really easy to clean it (water works just fine), it is really hard to make it dirty.

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