First, the raw bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus Suber) is boiled. It is then shaved it into 3mm thin slices. However, to create certain patterns the bark is first pressed, before sliced. The slices are then polished with suberin – a waxy substance from the cork oak that is highly water resistant. Finally they are glued unto a textile background. When desired, natural dyes are used to colour the fabric. Making cork fabric does not involve any harsh chemicals, creates no waste, and ensures the cork keeps its natural properties.
Cork Fabric was first created by Sardinian Anna Grindi in 1997 to be used in haute couture fashion. Patended under the local name of the tree, Suberis.
It is a truly revolutionary material, virtually indestructible. Waterproof, stain proof and fire resistant. Anti-mites, fungi and bacteria. It’s stretchable, breathable, hypoallergenic and washable at 30 degrees. Light as silk, smooth as velvet and warmer than leather.
Used by labels such as Dior and Stella McCartney Fendi and Jimmy Choo. The versatility and uniqueness of the material allows it to be used from casual to elegant clothing. Suitable for headwear, footwear, bags, accessories and upholstery including automobiles, boats and helicopters.
Made without chemicals. It’s natural, sustainable and renewable. Around every 9 to 12 years a cork oak can be stripped of its bark. This is done by hand, without heavy machinery and without harming the tree, allowing it to continue it’s growth of over 200 years.
Cork oaks are found in forests mosaics alongside other tree species. These lands are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. On par with the Amazone and Borneo. Home to several critically endangered animal species. The cork industry brings sustainability and value to both the forests and the people in their nearby surroundings.
a new way of using the bark of the cork oak tree
Cork fabric needs no maintenance, it will not dry out. On the contrary, it will get softer and look more alive as time goes by. Cork is naturally water resistant and because it is polished with Suberin – wax from the cork oak – , it is even waterproof. Rain won’t trouble it. The polish with Suberin also makes it stain resistant. Even when red wine or oil spill over it, you can just clean it with a cloth soaked in light soapy water. Or, wash it in a washing machine at a maximum of 30 degrees celsius.
Cork oaks and cork oak forests are found in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France. Cork oak forests have an abundant flora and fauna. About 135 different plant species per square kilometer and over two hundred animal species live amongst the cork oaks. These include the endangered Iberian lynx, Barbary deer and Iberian imperial eagle. For this reason the WWF par their ecological value to those of the Amazon, Borneo, and the Andes. Since the roots of cork oaks prevent soil erosion, they help prevent desertification. In the meanwhile, their barks – being fire retardant – form a natural barrier against forest fires. Also, the forests play a great part in combating climate change. It is estimated that cork forests retain a total of 14 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. A sizeable contribution to reducing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
The delicate process of cork harvesting has not changed since centuries. It requires only one tool, an axe. And the delicate hand of who handles it. The skill needed for correctly harvesting cork is very high. As a result cork farmers are the highest paid agricultural workers in the world.
When a cork oak reaches maturity, its bark begins to separate naturally. Farmers knock on the bark to hear which parts are ready to be taken off. After which they use their axe to make vertical and then horizontal cuts in parts of the bark, creating planks. These cork planks are taken off without harming the tree. Cork is always harvested between May and August, because during this time the tree is in its most active growth phase which makes harvest easier.
After the bark has been taken off, a cork oak will regenerate its naturally. During this regeneration period the tree absorbs about five times more CO2, because it uses carbon to grow its bark. After about 9-12 years, the bark is grown back fully and the tree can be harvested again. Since a cork oak lives up to two hundred years, one tree can be harvested about 16 times. This makes the cork industry one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use.
Because protection of the forests depend on their economic value. Over the last decades the use of plastic wine stoppers has increased. Consequently the use of of cork stoppers decreased. There is a risk that without a demand for cork the forest will eventually be converted into more profitable land uses. We want to avoid this because a decrease in cork oaks will probably lead to an increase in forests fires, loss of biodiversity and desertification. Also, a great deal of people will no longer be able to depend on cork oaks for their livelihoods.