The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Today, the sector accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output, more than international flights and shipping combined.
It's also seen as one of the most wasteful industries, with billions of pounds of textiles thrown away yearly, most of which are made from synthetic materials that can't be recycled. The good news is that we can all do something about the challenges facing our planet, such as seeking garments, bags, shoes, belts and wallets made from sustainable and animal-friendly materials, like cork. Before we move on to the advantages of cork in the world of fashion, it's essential to look at how various conventional materials are causing severe sustainability issues.
Cotton, polyester and leather are some of the most commonly used materials in producing clothing and accessories. Cotton is often touted as a natural and eco-friendly material, yet, it is a water-intensive crop. It takes a significant amount of water to produce just one pound of cotton. For example, it takes about 9000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans and 2700 litres to make one cotton t-shirt. Leather is another material that has significant environmental impact. The leather industry is one of the leading causes of pollution in waterways and one of the primary causes of deforestation in South America. The process of turning animal skin into leather uses a variety of toxic chemicals, including chromium and formaldehyde. These chemicals not only pollute the air and water, they also cause long term health issues for the tannery workers who are exposed to them.
The good news is that more and more people are waking up to the problems we are causing when we shop without purpose. This means lower impact materials are becoming more popular, and cork is one of these.
Cork is an eco-friendly material harvested from the bark of cork oak trees, which often thrive in Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. The cork industry is sustainable and environmentally friendly, as cork oak trees are not harmed during harvesting.
Cork trees can live for up to 500 years. It takes 40 years for the bark to become commercially viable, after which, the cork can be stripped every nine years without damaging the tree. The tree's bark can completely regenerate itself.
Cork trees require very little water to grow too. It takes about 1/3 of the amount of water to grow cork trees than cotton.
Cork is a versatile material used to create various fashion items. It's water-resistant, durable, and soft to the touch, making it ideal for everything from bags and purses to shoes and belts.
Cork materials break down naturally over time, making it one of the most eco-friendly materials available, yet it is also completely cruelty-free, vegan, hypoallergenic and antimicrobial. This makes it an excellent choice for people with sensitive skin or allergies.
Once harvested the cork bark must be left to air dry for around six months. In a process of boiling and steaming it is then possible to increase the elasticity of the material. Further heat and pressure are applied to create blocks which can then be sliced into thin sheets. Once in sheets, patterns can be cut to produce a wide range of items.
Unlike animal leather, the process to make cork leather is completely chemical free.
Cork is being used for a variety of items. Here at Watson and Wolfe, we offer a handmade range of cork belts, washbags, and weekend bags. We are a conscious brand committed to protecting animals and reducing pollution, which is why all our materials and processes are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. What's more, all our leather alternatives have at least three times less negative environmental impact than animal leather, making it a guilt-free choice for the fashion-conscious consumer.
Our cork collection has a beautiful, shiny finish that is smooth and soft to the touch. Unlike conventional materials such as leather and polyester, cork doesn't degrade or become brittle with age. This makes it an excellent choice for long-lasting everyday fashion items.
You can browse our collection of cork weekend bags, belts and travel washbags today and help protect the planet with lower-impact materials.
Can cork leather get wet?
If you’ve owned leather products before, this is a pertinent question. The main difference between cork leather and animal leather is that cork leather can get wet. Cork materials can be washed using hot water in a washing machine. However, cork leather is water resistant and stain resistant so you really shouldn’t need to wash it very often.
Is cork leather as durable as leather?
Cork is a fantastic alternative to animal leather. It’s perfect if you are trying to be more eco conscious, if you are vegan, vegetarian or if you just want to own something a little more unique. Whatever your reason, cork is similarly tough and water and tear resistant. Cork materials also stand the test of time, so they age well too.
How long does cork leather last?
Cork is a naturally durable material and will last upwards of 50 years, but the longevity of any item is dependent on its application and use. For example, a cork used in bottling wine will, if left intact, last for 50 years or more. Whereas a wallet or card holder which is subject to daily wear and tear may last between 4-8 years.
Thanks to its honeycomb structure, cork is highly abrasion resistant and is water, stain and scratch resistant. Like leather cork also ages beautifully.
Main Image: Photo by Mathis Jrdl
Updated 5th April 2023