The fashion industry is moving towards sustainability and the consumer is waking up. But there are common accessories that we often over look- our handbags and wallets. Cork handbags and wallets are an eco-friendly alternative to leather and plastic-based handbags.
Leather & synthetics negatively impact the planet
On the surface, leather handbags and wallets have many appealing qualities- they are durable and water resistant. However, the process of producing leather is not cruelty free and negatively impacts the environment. Cows release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Forests and their ecosystems are cleared for cows to graze. Toxic chromium salts are used during tanning, the by-products of which are at risk of being dumped into waterways in developing countries.
The most commonly available alternative to leather, is synthetic handbags and wallets. There is a common misconception that vegan leather’s are sustainable because they are cruelty free. However, synthetic handbags and wallets normally consist of knitted polyester and have a polyurethane coating. Essentially, synthetic handbags and wallets are plastic-based and rely on fossil fuels. They are also not biodegradable and add to landfill.
The benefits of cork
Cork on the other hand, is a natural material that absorbs rather than releases CO2. Cork trees are stripped, not cut down during harvesting, absorbing up to 5x more CO2 as the cork regenerates. Cork trees are first stripped when they are 25 years old and stripped every 9 years thereafter. It is not until the 3rd stripping, when the tree is at least 43 years old, that the cork is viable to make handbags and wallets. As a result, cork handbags and wallets are:
In comparison to leather, the treatment of cork is far gentler on the environment. It is boiled chemical free, before being sorted according to quality. Next it is dyed and backed with fabric to form ‘cork leather’. Natural cork pictured in the bag below is not dyed and is incredibly soft to touch. The more you use it, the softer it becomes. To learn more about the product journey, from a cork seedling to handbag, click here.
Cork is a zero waste material
As cork is a zero waste material, it comes in a variety of qualities. Cork quality is determined by the number of natural impurities in the cork. For example, the fewer the number of impurities, the higher the quality. On the low end, ground up cork is often compressed and combined with glue. Only the highest quality cork is used to make KOBI handbags and wallets. All KOBI cork is Portuguese and FSC certified. This means that it has been responsibly harvested from cork forests.
Cork forests retain CO2
The cork industry contributes to the maintenance of cork forests. Portugal has the largest cork forests in the world which are estimated to absorb up to 14 million tons of CO2 each year. Cork forests are home to high levels of biodiversity and endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx and Iberian Eagle. The Iberian Lynx has been dubbed “the rarest cat in the world” by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with roughly 300 left in the wild. The level of biodiversity found in cork forests has been compared to that of The Amazon Rainforest. This prompts the question, why do we hear so little about cork forests?
Not only is the preservation of cork forests important for ecosystems but also communities. Roughly, 100,000 people worldwide rely on cork forests for their economic survival. This begins with the highly specialised people who strip the trees by hand using an axe so as not damage the tree. Next are the people who process the cork and back it with fabric to form ‘cork leather’. Lastly, the artisans who hand make KOBI handbags and wallets in Portugal by combining their traditional craftsmanship with laser cut technology.
Planting a cork tree is a simple action that can make a big impact on people and the planet. In Portugal they say that when you plant a cork tree, you are planting it for your grandchildren. This is why KOBI has formed a partnership with Portuguese environmental organisation to plant a cork tree for every KOBI purchased. This is because sustainability is more than using a natural material, it is about leaving something behind for future generations.