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Cork: ecological, sustainable and stylish natural leather

We all know cork from our favourite bottle of Pinot Noir or perhaps the memo board to which you keep pinning all your endless to-do lists.

Natural cork fabric, also known as cork leather, is made from shavings directly from the cork oak tree. Most cork on the market today is from Portugal, the world leader in cork production and home to the largest collection of cork oaks.

Cork bark

How is cork fabric/leather made?

Cork fabric starts with harvesting, where the outer section of the bark is peeled back to reveal the inner cork. This can be done without harming the tree itself because the outer bark is able to regenerate itself! In fact, harvesting cork actually extends its life and increases the absorption of CO2

The cork can be harvested every 9 to 12 years without causing permanent damage to the bark. No machines are required to harvest the cork, a simple axe and the know how is all it takes.

After the cork is harvested, it’s laid out to dry for about six months. Then, the cork is boiled in water, flattened, and then supported by a fabric backing (usually cotton but also less sustainable polyester or polyurethane).

Cork fabric/leather

Is cork eco-friendly and sustainable?

Not only can cork be harvested without harming the tree, but—especially compared with leather—its production is much less detrimental to our planet. It doesn’t produce waste when being extracted or processed, nor does it contribute to air or water pollution. It does produce some wastewater, but given that nothing is required to cure it (unlike chemicals like cyanide and chromium used in leather tanning), it can be returned back to the earth without causing damage.

Even when scrap cork is produced, it can be reused by other industries. If that doesn’t happen, it can be returned to the earth because it’s 100% biodegradable and compostable. It can even be added to your compost bin!

One of the main benefits of using cork is its ability to remove CO2 from our atmosphere. With cork, harvesting keeps the tree intact, meaning it can continue sequestering carbon dioxide. While regrowing its bark, it actually consumes more carbon than usual.

Cork oaks grow within a mosaic of other tree species and in areas of the world known for having tremendous biodiversity. In fact, Portugal’s cork forest (where more than half of the world’s cork is found) provides a home for the Iberian lynx, which, with a population of less than 500, is the world’s most critically endangered cat.

Cork fabric is 100% vegan, making it a great leather alternative—thus giving it one of its main sustainability benefits.

Just like any other fabric, dyes may be added to the cork leather. The best is when natural plant-based dyes—typically blue, green, or brown—are added to the cork leather.

Unfortunately, toxic dyes may also be used to add color. Double-check with the brand or manufacturer to ensure that natural, plant-based dyes are used instead.

Advantages of cork accessories:

Most of people think cork accessories will not last but it actually has many advantages:

Extreme Lightness - This is one of the biggest advantages of cork (50% of its volume being air), as no one wants to carry a laptop bag that weighs more than the laptop itself.

Water Resistance - Cork wallets and bags are perfect to keep your favourite devices safe and sound - even in our lovely rainy Belgium.

Wear and Tear Resistance - Cork wallets are very sturdy and will last you a lifetime, even if you carry them daily in your jeans’ pocket; other cork accessories are just as resistant. Thanks to its honeycomb structure, cork is highly abrasion resistant and has a high friction coefficient. That’s why cork is a go-to material even for NASA.

Slow Burning - We surely hope you won’t ever need to test this! The slow combustion of cork makes it a natural fire retardant and a kind of barrier against fire.

Softness and Uniqueness - The softness of cork fabric is one of the characteristics I love the most. Also, each product is as unique as a fingerprint, as there are no two equal pieces of cork.

Cork bag - BORBOLETA

So how to clean cork?

Simply spot treat it using a damp cloth and gently rub it until the dirt or stain disappears. For a larger mess (like when your organic lipstick cap comes off in your purse), find comfort in the fact that cork is totally waterproof and can be immersed in warm water for a gentle wash with (ideally) zero waste dish soap. Leave out to air dry and you’re good to go!

Because of its durability, a cork bag or wallet *can* even be washed in the washing machine. However, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Cork is eco-friendly, sustainable, durable, unique, soft, light and Portuguese J so a perfect fabric for BORBOLETA’s accessories!


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