If you ever wondered how cork came into being, let us put you at ease. It most definitely is a 100% natural, organic material composed of the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). There you have it, mystery solved! “But wait, does that mean cork is simply wood?” you might ask. Well, no. Not really. Let us explain.
Meet the Cork Oak Tree (Quercus Suber)
The cork oak tree (Quercus suber), from which cork is extracted, is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. In fact, it is one of the most common tree species in Portugal, being predominant in coastal Alentejo and the Algarve.
Meet the cork oak tree in all its glory
Cork is extracted from cork oak trees without ever harming the tree, or being detrimental to its normal development. This is called uncorking which, in short, means removing its outer layer, where all the “corky” goodness is. After the extraction, the cork oak simply produces a new layer of bark with the same thickness and properties. You can repeat this process every 9 years. Isn’t it amazing? Nature truly knows best.
Recently, more mechanized processes of uncorking were introduced to further ensure the safety of trees and prevent injuries. Therefore, cork is one of the safest, most ecological materials to use, especially if you are environmentally conscious and eco-friendly fashion is a top priority for you.
Cork is extracted from cork oak trees without ever harming them
The composition of cork revealed
Cork is a unique natural plant tissue - a beehive of microscopic cells surrounded by a gas (identical to the air we breathe) and covered mostly by suberin and lignin. Suberin is a natural, highly hydrophobic wax, while lignin (which is a polymer found in various terrestrial plants) is responsible for imparting rigidity, impermeability and resistance to it.
To this day, technology hasn’t been able to catch up with this nifty combination of properties, or to mimic it in a laboratory. But, if you are still wondering how can the bark of a tree be transformed into everyday objects such as wallets, clutches and briefcases, read on.
How can bark become a bag?
Not all tree barks were created equal. Cork has some unique characteristics that make its transformation possible, and even relatively simple, allowing for creative new uses. For instance, cork is a remarkably elastic material, which allows for the cutting and pressing of it, turning it into a tissue like sheet, which can then be transformed into cruelty free fashion accessories.
High quality vegan accessories are a good example of cork's versatility.
It’s flexible, bouncy membranes, allow it to regain original shape after being compressed, a property know as “elastic return”. It’s thanks to this property that cork stoppers adapt to bottlenecks, even when they are oddly shaped. This is also the property that comes into play, when protecting devices with cork sleeves.
Elasticity is great, but impermeability is one of cork’s best known features. You could take it out in a storm and it would remain unscathed, the water bouncing off of it. The high percentage of fatty substances (like suberin, remember?) in cork membranes is to blame. Now, you don’t need to go out in storms to prove this, but you can be 100% confident while taking your cork product out in the rain or snow.
Although cork is not wood, it is a dead tissue, which makes it an inert substance. Meaning no taste and, more importantly, no odors will be released by it. This has great hygienic value, another characteristic highly appreciated by the transformative and creative industries. Another distinctive quality is its durability, or, better said, its capacity for retaining its original conditions. This makes it a perfect candidate for durable, high quality vegan accessories.
Green, greener, the greenest.
We have already established that cork is a natural material and that it is actually the bark of a tree - surprising as it may be. We have already seen which qualities and unique traits of cork make this transformation possible (and desirable). But what you may not know yet, is that this wonderful raw material is a 100% reusable and a 100% recyclable.
That’s right. After being transformed (into cork stoppers, for example), cork leftovers can be used. Even when you have a final transformed product, you can still grind it. The granulate resulting from this process can and will be used in other products, such as shoe soles, coating panels, or other insulation materials. The possibilities are endless, and the recycling process never stops…Good news for the planet.