As an Archaeologist, cork bark and all of it’s industry is the perfect example of how important it is to learn from the past. To learn how sustainability was something naturally 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 they had too because there was no artificially charged creation of products, so everything had to be taken care to make it last or useful for the next season, the next crop, the next year and so everything was used, re-used and recycled even though they had no sense of this actually being an action, it was just the way they lived.
By diversifying the cork industry and buying cork products of Portuguese origin, 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, including the protection of the habitat of the Iberian Lynx, All of this depends on forests of this remarkable Oak Tree
On top of that, the humane side. Giving fairly paid jobs to locals that have been doing this job for generations. Ensuring the products made are of Portuguese and European standards quality and respect workers rights in Europe.
Now give to this the twist of mixing cork with the latest technology in textiles production and you have the perfect clash between ancient tradition and futuristic technologiy. A clash between the past and the future hapenning right here in our very own present.
I believe that, rediscovering cork as a material with everyday use potential, we can create a better sustainable world by connecting different cultures, different people, different ideas, united under the mission of living, using and wearing sustainable and ethical #corkfabric
Cork Crafts style was a complete journey to figure it out. Cork fabric products in Portugal by definition are for people that live in countries with plenty of warm weather and sunlight. Now that has a direct influence in people’s style. On top of that Portugal and Spain are notoriously older as many of the younger generations has migrated in the last few decades. The result is that the products cater to an older generation with a specific fashion sense. And I’m not even mentioning the huge chunk sold as tourist souvenirs!
But Ireland has a younger and more progressive population, so, instead of wearing a fashion statement, what people are looking for is discreet but colorful items that are functional, which is a complete opposite of the trends of flashy gold, silver and 3D designs found in most cork shops in the Mediterranean region.
Once I learned this, then it became clearer the kind of products I wanted to sell, precisely the ones I’d use on my day to day and the ones I could see people use on a day to day basis. So I started observing what kind of items people were using, from bags to backpacks and footwear. And slowly I started to understand what kind of combination of items and colors could work in Ireland
But there was still a problem, no one of the wholesalers were selling these products, because they did not know the market beyond Portugal. So it was clear that to define the brands style, I had to design the items and find the artisans or manufacturers that could make them.
And this has been something as simple as sending a picture of a leather bag and ask them to make it in cork fabric, asking them to change leather parts of certain products for cork or other non-animal based material, Or sometimes just changing the colors and patterns on certain designs. Or literal long conversations where we go through each and any part of the item to be crafted to be forged in Cork Crafts style…
Over the years, so many many questions have we been asked about cork. Is it durable? Is it brittle? Is it waterproof? With this article we hope to answer these questions.
Different works, different corks
The versatility of cork as a material means there’s a plethora of uses of this material, from flooring to insulation, to accessories made of cork fabric. However different types of cork processing are indicated for specific uses. Therefore the kind of process one does to cork bark for a floor tile is normally not indicated for example for a cork wallet or umbrella. But what are these different processes? Let me explain.
Cork Agglomerate is perhaps the cheapest kind of cork processing and there’s a reason for it. Essentially it’s any kind of cork grounded to whatever grain density is needed. This is the utmost re-usability of cork as it’s often made of used cork products such as wine stoppers or anything made of cork. Once the cork is grounded. The cork is then poured into a vat where it’s boiled. The boiling process makes the cork release a natural resin that binds the different granules together. With this process one can turn the normal sized cork bark into blocks of whatever use you need it for.
Pros: Ideal for large scale works that will use cork. Normally used in industrial settings or construction. Though it’s the most common use of cork due to how cheap and reusable it is. It can be died in different colors and has a high tolerance to synthetic dyes.
Cons: The cork granules will eventually flake away little by little. In a plank or cube form is ideal though it is brittle and not flexible. If cut into a sheet it will simply break apart.
Main uses: Insulation, wine stoppers or any kind of industrial sized where cork is needed. Lisbon harbor has famously incorporated cork granules with concrete into it’s foundations creating pillars of concrete with less weight in a very swampy part of the Tagus river.
Not Recommended For: Cork fabric! It’s low degree of flexibility means it will brittle away and soon enough your cork purse will decay into tiny cork pieces.
Cork Stripes is composed of homogeneous sliced planks of cork bark bound together into a block and then cut into slices to whichever degree is needed. The planks are conjoined vertically and normally have only a couple of centimeters in thickness. As the planks are placed vertically a number of horizontal darker brown lines are visible. These lines, or pores, are naturally dug on the cork bark when it’s still in the tree. Insects and fungus create them to reach the livable cork bark on the cork oak. As the cork bark grows they slowly dig deeper and deeper. The planks are also of a lower degree of cork bark representing more pores and more inconsistencies in the final product making it a relatively cheap cork bark to obtain but with a lesser lifespan.
Pros: Cork stripes is the next step from agglomerates as it shows the typical cork smoothness in a relatively cheaper way of processing. The stripes are often cut from the leftovers of the wine stoppers industry so there is no wastage of cork! On top of that, the direct use of cork bark means the trees are kept in a healthy state and promotes the preservation of cork oak forests (montado) throughout Portugal and Spain.
Cons: The stripes joint together and the many natural pores cut horizontally means that for thinner cork products these could break apart at these parts. As it is cheaper to produce and widely available, many unethical businesses based in third world countries are making products with these process by the millions. Unfortunately this kind of fabric does not have the same kind of strength and leads to propagate the idea that cork is not a durable material. Adding to this the cheap backing and synthetic dies and is a perfect recipe for disaster at the consumers expense.
Main uses: Cork Floor Tiles, Cork Wallpapers. Some fabric uses such as towels or bed covers.
Not Recommended For: Durable Cork fabric. The many joints in the fabric and the pores themselves means the fabric will likely decompose from these parts and break away. Many cheaper cork fabrics made in unsustainable ways are sold in this way. The backing of these cork fabrics is normally a plastic mesh or sheet to cut costs. As a fabric it has a very low durability rate. It does not help either that it’s dyed normally with chemical compound. Chemical dies in a thin cork cut makes it dry up and break apart quicker.
But wait, don’t you have some wallets and bags made in a similar style? Yes and no. Meaning yes we do, and no it’s not the same techonology. The Portuguese investment in Cork technology means that there’s new ways to process cork into stripes and other shapes ensuring it does not decay. This is done by ensuring that after the cut is made, a layer of natural plant based resin is added to the cork layer to ensure it won’t decompose. This will always be clearly identifiable as you won’t feel the joints and crevices on the cork fabric.
Cork Fabric is created from cubes of cork cut directly from the bark or from the leftovers of cork wine stoppers processing.
The cubes are layed in 25 meters long by 1.80 meters sheets by hand and cut to 0.1mm thickness. This now layer of cork is then inserted by hand into a machine which binds it with a cotton baking. By pressing both layers together the cork releases a resin that effectively binds them into a waterproof and durable fabric. But the process is not over yet. Afterwards, skilled workers will cut by hand any irregularities in the cork fabric. The cubes cut in a vertical direction as opposed to the horizontal cut of cork stripes. Which means theres a lesser degree of porosity in the cork fabric itself. On top of that higher quality cork fabric is made of the less porous cork bark possible. And the lesser joints and pores means a higher degree of durability of the fabric itself. The backing is almost always cotton giving it an additional flexible strength to the fabric.
Pros: Cork fabric is the ideal for crafting and leather alternative. It takes color very well which means it can be crafted in different colors. it’s degree of flexibility means it’s an ideal natural fabric.
Cons: Being made of the highest quality of cork bark means it has a higher value but a higher durability as well. It takes only natural dies and attempts at using cheaper artificial colorants will damage the cork.
Main uses: Cork Accessories, Cork Footwear and even Cork Clothing. Also ideal for Cork Towels, Rugs and wallpapers.
Not Recommended For: Industrial uses. Cork fabric can decay very quickly when in contact with some chemicals becoming brittle and breaking away. If you’re not sure on what to use on your cork product ask us first.
So in conclusion, what’s the best and most durable type of cork?
The most durable cork fabric will always be the one with the less pores and joints possible. The lesser parts that make the cork sheet, the longer it will last. The exception is if the layers where treated after the cutting process and this is easily identifiable by how the cork feels. It will feel like polished wood.
Today 8 years ago I started my Irish adventure. I landed in Cork airport on the evening of the 27th and the 28th was the first day of work in Ireland. I did not have a fancy phone but had a semi fancy camera a Nikon D60 with a Nikor 18-200mm VRII lense! And so I was able to take this shot:
It’s not very cool or astonishing shot but it represents the start of something completely new. It’s weird to talk about this as many would say I am an “ex-pat” but I don’t see myself as such I always saw myself as an economic immigrant. Simply put if I had a stable job and life in Portugal eight years ago I would have never moved to Ireland at all.
But back then the best job I could get was designing flyers for a teaching center and then distributing said flyers. i was proud of being able to distribute 10000 flyers a week. A feat easily made having into account how we have many apartment blocks in Faro with over 5 floors and multiple apartments per floor!
Before that I struggled for years to get a stable job as an Archaeologist. But the work was scarce and always on a non-contractual based. Meaning a job one day meant the next day might not be there. And that happened very often when archaeological services depended on construction work during the recession.
So when a job opening in a multinational company i very well knew the work opened up I applied immediately. I spent long nights preparing my CV and Cover Letter to apply for the job and in reality it took me 4 months and three denials before I finally got a phone interview. Each time I went back to the “drawing board” and refurbish everything for the application once again. In the meantime I was doing some photography work for the local theater and local museum.
Like photographing a play which curious enough had a scene inside a 1940s cinema:
Or for the museum the photo work for an exhibition about traditional salt harvest:
And in between… editing and CV prep I would go for walks along the old farms:
And so I passed the phone interview, went to a real interview in Lisbon and once all of that was done I got the confirmation i was hired. Ireland and Cork City would be my destiny. Of course me and my friends made loads of jokes about. “oh you’re gonna get corked” “pretty sure there’s loads of cork in Cork” or “the cork laws are really strong in that city for sure!” *small history note – > Cork Laws where popular slang for freedom of speech repression during the fascist regime and it remained as a slang when you are trying to hide a secret now that Portugal is a democracy.
November was spent packing, getting ready for the big change. But still, just four days before leaving I decided to spend an afternoon taking photos along the coast:
When one changes country though I don’t know if we really know what to expect…
I did not know I would stay 8 years in Ireland but the truth is the longer I was away the harder I missed home. One becomes a stranger in a strange land. Trying to adapt to the new country and at the same time still trying to be the same person from that small town in Portugal…
It grows this wish to go back, to try and go back home. But when you return on holidays you realize that’s not your place either. Things have changed. And the longer you are away, the stranger your own home becomes… Slowly you drift away from your home away from home.
And so I became a mix of southern Portuguese and southern Irish, a kind of lusitanic and celtic symbiotic organism.
“Well you’re practically Irish now anyhow”. These words where told to me a few weeks ago and as those words set in I realized that I hardly go back to that small town in Portugal where I grew up. There seems to be a detachment from it that does not seem it will be repaired anytime soon. And as this gap gets bigger the smaller the gap between me and Ireland.
Today I still feel like a stranger in Ireland, but I am today closer to Ireland than I ever was before as Portugal becomes stranger to me everyday…
So let’s hope for the future and see what it holds for the next 8 years. 🙂
Two years ago we walked into a craft market with a suitcase filled with cork goods…
There where our humble beginnings. A few cork items on a table inside a church in Cork City.
Two Years on, we grew because of you. Because of your knowledge of how important cork products can be for the future, for the environment and ultimately for your future and of our planet.
We grew in size but also in diversity. We grew in friends both in Ireland and in Portugal.
We grew from a weekly Saturday stall at a market to having an online shop, and being present a 6 markets a week around Cork and Kerry!
To all of you that follow us, that know our message to be right. That want a sustainable future for our planet and understand how important cork can be for that future. we thank you and we will celebrate together many more years. 🙂