Cork Leather the Best Alternative to Animal Leather

Cork leather is a great material.

We’ve been using it to launch a collection of items made of plant-based leather, including this beautiful card holder.

Why?

Because cork leather is the best alternative to animal leather.

It’s beautiful, natural, and eco-friendly. That’s perfect if like me you care about the environment.

Yes.. here’s the real issue:

What is cork leather?Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry. (What!?) It is also the second after agriculture in terms of water usage.

Shocking, right?

One of the reasons behind the terrible statistics of the fashion industry is animal leather. That’s why I would like to tell you about a material that is a sustainable, natural, and fashionable.

Let’s explore cork leather in greater detail.

Why should you care about cork leather?

Henry Ford said, that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Isn’t it true?

When we get used to the norms, no matter how bad they are, it is hard to imagine a change.

Until someone suddenly comes and shakes the things completely. Although we live in the most creative times, there is still so much to discover and to improve. One of the areas I am talking about is fashion.

Statistics about the water usage in fashion industry.

Some items require a few hundred liters of water for their production – how crazy is that?

We may not be thinking much about it since it is “just clothes”, but fashion is having a significant impact on the environment, the people, and the animals.

We can look at the example of Kanpur – India’s biggest leather exporter.

Juhi explains in The Wire:

Kanpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, is famous for its leather industry, with nearly 400 tanneries housed in the suburbs of Jajmau alone. The industry has become a bane for the Ganga as it contaminates it severely with a heavy load of toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, lead, arsenic and cobalt, all of which have severe health implications.

Because of the chemicals, there has been a significant increase in cancers, blindness, skin diseases, and children born with a mental illness and undeveloped body parts. Animal leather also puts in danger tannery workers (who suffer from skin discolouration) and animals, who are inhumanely treated (including slow and painful death, being skinned alive etc.)

(To learn more, how vegan leather is about the planet, check out my last article.)

Luckily, there are some leather alternatives but they are usually made from plastics. Not only do they need around 500 years to degrade, but also they pose a big threat to our oceans and to our food chain.

From fishing lines to flip-flops, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans, according to a 2014 study published in a Public Library of Science journal.

Additionally, the process of plastic production releases to the environment dangerous chemicals, such as dioxins.

Impact of plastic and fashion on health. Why we need cork leather

If you care about the well-being of yours and others (and I assume you do), it’s better to avoid plastic.

As you can see, 100% plant-based leather is not only about a diet. It is about the planet and your future.

It is also about innovation -something that has driven the progress of humankind for centuries.

Lucy Siegle writes:

Future generations will shake their heads at our loyalty to a handful of fibers with terrible environmental profiles, such as cotton (thirsty for pesticides and water) and plastic (oil based). They’ll want to know why we didn’t display more imagination.

So what could we do to change the situation? Are there any eco-friendly, yet fashionable materials we could use instead of animal leather?

Luckily, there is one and its name is cork leather…

 

What is cork leather?

Cork leather is a natural and eco-friendly material made from the bark of the cork oak tree.

As a textile, it stands out thanks to its high-durability and a unique look. Due to its features such as being waterproof, stain resistant, and easy to maintain, it is a perfect alternative to animal leather.

Luxury Cork Leather Card Holder

Cork leather looks natural. You can feel the sustainability radiating from it!

The most interesting fact, however, is that it is 100% plant-based, sustainable, and chemical-free (no plastic!).

Ok, let’s break all of those apart and start from the beginning.

How is cork leather made?

It requires patience and a lot of time to make cork leather. First of all, one needs the cork oak tree that is 25 years old. Only when the tree reaches this age, cork producers harvest it for the first time. However, the first harvest is not usable. The second one, done after 9 years, can be then used for the fashion purposes.

Cork oak tree after harvesting. The first stage of cork leather production

Harvested cork oak tree absorbs 3-5 times more carbon dioxide than the unharvested one. 

Once the bark is removed from the tree, cork is left for 6 months to dry out. After this period, it is being steamed and boiled to grant it extra elasticity. The blocks of cork are then cut into thin sheets and a fabric support backing is attached. The end product is a durable textile that can be used in upholstery and fashion.

Most of the cork suppliers are based in Portugal. Actually, the half of global cork comes from there. This small Mediterranean country has perfect weather conditions for cork oak trees. Because it is a very dry region, fires happen there on regular basis. However, cork is slow to burn so the layers of cork act as a protection for the trees.

Cork oak tree bark drying. Second step of cork leather production

The harvested bark spends 6 months to air-dry. Same as whisky or wine, it needs time to get better.

As I emphasised before, it is a very sustainable and ecological material.

Why is that?

It takes the tree 9 years to rebuild the bark. Because of the process of recovery, harvested cork oak absorbs 3-5 times more carbon dioxide than the unharvested one. So by using cork leather, you are actually helping to decrease the air pollution.

Chere from Eluxe Magazine says:

Cork is widely regarded as being one of the most ecologically friendly materials around. It’s easily recycled, completely natural, and using Cork Oak forests for industry helps prevent desertification and deforestation. Mainly harvested from Southern Europe, there is a particular Cork forest in the Iberian Peninsula that is essential to the protection of endangered species in the region.

You may be also wondering if the trees are harmed during the process of harvesting.

I can guarantee you, it is a completely natural process that helps the trees. No harm involved! Harvesting actually prolongs the lifespan of cork oak trees by to up to 300 years.

19 reasons you will love cork leather

Cork leather is a textile of many advantages and features. That’s why it is so great. If you already like it, here are the reasons to fell in love with it:

  • Eco-Friendly – As already mentioned, it is a perfect material for all of those caring about the environment. Since the harvested cork oak trees absorb 3-5 times more carbon dioxide than the unharvested ones, the usage of cork leather helps with cleaning the polluted air.
  • Natural – It is made from the bark of cork oak. Compare that to artificial leather alternatives…
  • Unique – Thanks to its distinctive pattern, you can be sure no two pieces of cork will be the same. It is an effect impossible to achieve with animal leather which is usually made to look the same – boring!

Luxury items - iPhone cover and card holder - made from cork leather

Every single cork leather item has a distinctive, unique pattern. Don’t they look great together? 

 

  • Sustainable – The bark of cork oaks rebuilds itself every 9 years which means cork leather is a great example of a sustainable material. Compare that to the animal leather that can be made only after an animal is killed.
  • 100% plant-based – The material comes from the trees so it is a cruelty-free fabric that does not impose any danger to animals.
  • Soft – Cork leather, despite coming from a tree, is a very soft material. That’s why it can be used in fashion to make cork handbags and accessories.
  • Special Feel – As soon as you feel it, you will understand what I mean. Cork leather has to it this unique, soft feel that will convert you from animal leather straight away.
  • Stylish – Cork leather can be a great addition to your outfit, no matter if you wear suits 24/7 or rather you are someone who prefers more casual style.

Cork leather iPhone case. It goes with everything, like Goudron Blanc T-shirt

Cork leather goes well with everything, like for example with the GoudronBlanc organic cotton T-shirt

 

  • Waterproof – It may come as a surprise but cork is waterproof. That’s why wine producers use it for closing their bottles. Thanks to it, you don’t have to worry when your cork leather items get wet.
  • Easy To Maintain – Speaking about the waterproof abilities, it is great news for you as you can easily clean and wash it just with some water and soap.
  • Stain Resistant – Although it is really easy to clean it, you won’t have many occasions to actually do it. It is really hard to make it dirty. It is stain resistant. Think about red wine again. The cork is always perfectly clean!
  • Tear Resistant – Yup! This one as well.
  • Slow Burning – As I already mentioned earlier, cork is slow to burn, that’s why it acts as a protection for cork oak trees in Portugal, where the fires occur quite often.
  • Durable – You can already see that this is a very strong material. NASA uses cork to protect some rockets from very high temperature. They use cork in areas that can get very hot, such as near the engine.”
  • Light – While being so durable, cork leather is actually very light thanks to its ethereal structure. More than 50% of its volume is air. It can actually float.
  • Elastic – Thanks to the presence of air in it, it is a very elastic material. That’s another reason why it is a good fabric to make handbags from.
  • Colours – It is possible to have cork in different colours and patterns – what a great feature for all the fashion lovers. As a designer, I am really excited to experiment with all the options available

 

Luxury cork leather cardholder in navy blue

Cork leather comes in the variety of colours. What do you think about this great navy blue?

 

  • Insulating – Cork’s conductivity to vibrations, heat, and sound is very low.
  • Hypoallergenic – Cork doesn’t absorb dust so people with various allergies and asthma can use it without any problems.

Why cork leather is better than animal leather

I hope you share my love for cork leather now. If you are still not sure about it, here is the table comparing it to the animal leather:

 Cork LeatherAnimal Leather
Durable✅ YES - Cork leather is tear resistant.Depending on the finishing, scratches might be easily visible.
Waterproof✅ YES - Think about wine bottles.NO - Water can permanently damage animal leather.
Eco-friendly✅ YESNO
Sustainable✅ YES - You just need to harvest trees. The bark of oaks rebuilds itself.NO - An animal needs to be killed.
Vintage look✅ YES✅ YES
Light✅ YES - More than 50% of its volume is air.NO - It can be heavy and bulky.
Easy to maintain✅ YES - You don't need to do anything in particular.NO - You need special products.
Easy to clean✅ YES - Cork leather is stain-resistant and it can be cleaned with soap and water.NO - Some stains will stay forever.
European✅ YES - Most of the cork comes from suppliers in PortugalDEPENDS - While some luxury brands use European leather, most brands use cheap leather from Asia

Cork Leather vs. Animal Leather – the score is pretty clear to me 🙂

10 famous designers and fashion houses who have worked with cork

If by any chance, you still don’t believe me that cork leather is an amazing, eco-friendly material, and the best alternative to animal leather, take a look at the work of the most talented designers. So many of them have discovered the potential of cork and have already worked with it.

Personally, I am really happy to see it.

Those people or brands are the trendsetters so seeing cork in their newest collections fills me with a dose of optimism, that maybe fashion is on its way towards the better and more ethical future.

 

Luxury Cork Wedges by Jimmy Choo

I love the combination of white leather and light cork! (©Jimmy Choo)

  • Jimmy Choo – 2017 Spring-Summer collection of this powerhouse features plenty of pairs of shoes made partly from cork.

 

 

Luxury Cork Wedges by Chloe

Personally, I wouldn’t add this golden detail at the back, but hey, why not? (©Chloé)

  • Chloé – The French brand included in the current collection two pairs of wedges made of cork.

 

 

Luxury Cork Leather Tote Handbag by Calvin Klein

If Calvin Klein dares to make cork leather tote, you know it must be good… (©Calvin Klein)

  • Calvin Klein – Out of all high-end designers, Calvin Klein made the biggest use of cork leather. He made totes, clutches, shoulder bags and many other products from this material.

 

 

Luxury Cork Leather shoes by Prada

Hot alert! (©Prada)

  • Prada –  I know devil wears Prada, but I can understand it when looking at those gorgeous cork shoes!

 

Luxury Cork Leather Shoulder Bag by Stella McCartney

As a minimalist, I don’t dig those colours. Do you know what I mean? (©Stella McCartney)

  • Stella McCartney The designer who dedicated her life to fighting for the animals’ rights has used cork leather in the previous years, for example, to make this colourful shoulder bag. Since she makes most of her items with non-natural (a.k.a plastic) 100% plant-based leather, it was a nice change.

 

 

Luxury Cork Leather Shoe by Michael Kors

For me, the brown leather and cork are like peanut butter and jelly. (©Michael Kors)

  • Michael Kors – The designer nailed the combination of cork material, dark brown straps and golden accents in this lovely pair featured in his previous collections.

 

 

Luxury Cork Leather Clutch by Tory Burch

Cute. (©Tory Burch)

  • Tory Burch – It seems like the American designer likes to use elephants in her collections. I think that combining those majestic animals with cork leather gives a great clutch that makes a statement.

 

 

Luxury Cork Leather Heel Christian Louboutin

I would take the red sole heels no matter what, but if they are with cork, I am like wow! (©Christian Louboutin)

  • Christian Louboutin – Once you see the famous red sole, you know the shoes are special. That’s why the French designer did a big favour to the cork leather community when he designed heels with the fabric.

 

 

Luxury Dark Brown Cork Heels Gucci

My favourite picture here. I love it! (©Gucci)

  • Gucci – I don’t know if you agree with me but I love the combination of sexy red and dark brown cork. Doesn’t it look amazing? Bravissimo!

 

 

Luxury Cork Shoes by Dolce and Gabbana

Polka-dot and cork? Clever! (©Dolce & Gabbana)

  • Dolce & Gabbana – Last but not least, the cork shoe that so many women would kill for!

Where you can buy cork leather accessories

I hope that from now on you like cork leather as much as I do. It is a great eco-friendly material that makes a great competition for the animal leather. Cork leather handbags, cork shoes, 100% plant-based wallets and purses, they are all the future. The future that is already happening now. The future that we need.

If you share my enthusiasm and you would like to become a trendsetter with our cork leather items, let us know, and we will inform you once our collection is available. You can already check out our designer cork leather card holder.