Meet the cork Man

Cork Crafts is the brainchild of Vasco Carto, a Portuguese Archaeologist living in Cork City, Ireland since 2011.


Born in Brazil to Portuguese parents, my parents moved to Portugal when I was 3. I ended up growing up in a small fishing town in the Algarve called Olhão. At the time Olhão was sinking in economic terms. The big industrial boom of the city with canned fish had long gone and that meant the city was drowning in poverty, slums and crime. At one point Olhão was the third most unsafe city in Portugal. Gang fights, fleeing the codfish gang (yes there was a gang with this name) or hearing stories of the MaMaus (the best translation to English can only be the MoreEvil family as in stating they where more evil than anyone else in town) which where known to be vicious in their ways of crime and drug trafficking.  These where times when everyone  tried to make a quick buck, in any possible way,  to survive. In total Olhão had 7 social neighborhoods in a town with at the time 35.000 inhabitants.

Nowadays things have quiet down a bit and most social neighborhoods are known for the graffiti that colors the many apartment blocks, as the town flourishes in cultural tourism and the poverty of the 80s and 90s is long gone. Maybe because of this, everyone in Olhão has peculiar stories from their childhood and a plethora of sayings.

My favorite popular saying still is “Keep your money and talk to the poor” which is normally screamed at someone that is pretending to not know the person that screamed these words.

It shows the kind of humble but straightforward people that makes this town. It’s rare to know of someone that got conned in Olhão as the people are very clever, feisty but modest and with a cunning sharp thong.

In retrospect, this might sound like a really bad childhood! But in reality, this is what made me today. These experiences always made me want to do something that is right and that is fair for everyone!

While I grew up in the city, my weekends where spent at home in a countryhouse in the fields around the city. My weekends where spent exploring with my dogs. Next to our house there was a dried up river so very often I’d go there with my faithfull dog Tequila. Yes my dog was named Tequila! Was supposed to be a strong name for a strong dog but… he was the most docile dog I ever had! We’d spent time exploring the fields through old ruins of farmhouses, wells and water channels long forgotten. Or in my parents farm, in the middle of the Banana plantation or corn fields.

Summer Fields nearby where I grew up. The house is an old 19th century estate that used to rule all over the place called Bela Mandil

These adventures grew in me a need to know more and more about the past. And I started to play games pretending to be an Archaeologist. One of the games was to bury  toys or even just random rocks and look for them after a long time passed.  Sometimes even years!

As you can imagine, I ended up studying Archaeology and work in that field after I finished the degree in 2008

It was about at this time I understood the importance of the past. Not as some old rocks or stories, but the people that existed in the past and how much we could learn from them. I ended up joining an NGO which tried to bridge the gap between local traditions and local culture with the tourism industry. To create a bridge and understanding between different people from completely different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. And in the words of the founder of that NGO:

“We don’t inherit the earth, we borrow it from our children”

For the NGO Hera in the Roman and Medieval Roads around Moncarapacho, gilding a group of local citizens to know their local heritage and giving an in situ Archarology lesson.

Sadly though, volunteer work does not put food on the table and work in the economic crisis was scarce. Looking to become independent and have my own life I ended up applying for jobs abroad. And ended up on Cork City, Ireland working in a multinational company but completely unrelated to my field of work!

And this was already 10 years ago!

This corporate job gave did me independence and a life but it also meant it was completely unfulfilling and not in par with my personality I felt increasingly like a mindless zombie going to work everyday doing the same repetitive tasks for money. I felt progressively loosing my humanity and becoming an apathetic drone without feelings.

An illustrative image of office work, any resemblance with reality is purely coincidental!

And as soon as I understood this, I knew I needed to change. To do something that was meaningful, where I could teach individuals about the cultural past and it’s importance in the present.  And that, ended up being through a natural product that is an integral part of Cork Crafts! Cork itself!

My original intent with Cork Crafts, was to pick up Portuguese products, made of Portuguese Cork and expand them beyond being tourist souvenirs. To have everyone experience the versatility of this fantastic natural product that goes way beyond wine stoppers. While some success was achieved, the reality was that the products made for the Mediterranean market could not work in colder climates like in Ireland. Therefore I started to the design the items themselves and work with the artisans and crafters in Portugal to make them. While some where designed from scratch, others are simply small changes by removing or adding colors or materials. For example intent on removing any leather or animal based materials from the items. And always using as much as possible natural materials.

Ideally of course I want to work with Irish Artisans in the near future by providing the cork fabric and selling their creations with them. 🙂

And some creations with Irish makers are already happening!

Bookbinding Work by Hubert Bookbindery in Cork City


Upholstery job by Pathfinders Custom Converters

As the cork industry is a fully sustainable and a traditional industry, this means that by buying cork products we are keeping an ancient traditional industry alive, saving the cork forests through maintaining it’s sustainable forestry practice intact. Ensuring the survivability of entire ecosystems that would otherwise disappear if it wasn’t for this fantastic Oak Tree!. On top of that, the humane side. Giving fairly paid jobs to locals that have been doing this job for generations. Ensuring quality products of Portuguese quality, with European standards.

Cork Harvesting

For me personally, an Archaeologist that fully believes the past is an essential tool to create a better future, Cork Crafts was the perfect combination between keeping an innocuous traditional trade alive, to learn from it, and to bring it to future generations through constant re-imagining cork and everything it can achieve!

Yes! This is a cork umbrella!

Cork Harvesting in the 1940s, photo by Artur Pastor


This also means that Cork Crafts, is the perfect example of how important it is to learn from the past. To learn how sustainability was something that was a part of the pre-industrialized world, in a time where humans lived in a quasi-perfect symbiotic lifestyle with the world that surrounds them.

And this is what I believe in. A sustainable world achievable by rediscovering cork bark as a fundamental material for a sustainable future.

I believe that when you buy something, we should think not only of the object but everything involved in making it. The artisan that made the item and the person who thought of the item itself! With cork products, you are buying a piece of  history, traditions and thousands of years of experience in cork processing

But also you are making a small investment in the future of our planet. You are buying something that is sustainable and does not harm the planet, humans nor animals, that actively promotes maintaining and trees and forest alive without cutting them down, that keeps native forests alive and protects a biodiversity only surpassed by rainforests. And lastly we protect the natural environment of the endangered Iberian Lynx!

I believe that, through Cork Crafts we can create a better sustainable world by connecting the past with the present, by connecting different cultures, different people, united under the mission of living in a sustainable and ethical lifestyle.