Blog

Two Years of Cork Crafts A Retrospective, Part 1

January 2018. Unable to walk and having recently left my previous job on a multinational company, i wrote on a piece of paper “Take Cork Crafts off the ground”. This project, the Cork Crafts project, had started in May 2017 and now it would be my permanent professional activity.

The year was starting and everything was in a haze. The departure from my “main” job happened after almost two years of constant… struggles with certain parts of management. It was the culmination of a decision made to leave the company and the creation of a path that slowly emerged. It emerged out of the frustrations with the corporate world, out of the constrains, apathy and sometimes sadistic ideology that sprout in people that achieve power over others. These frustrations, lead me to think clearly with only one idea in mind.

“I will leave this place.”


Let’s go back to October 2016.. Rising rents in Cork City meant I too was affected by it. I finally got the letter from the Assets Management Company that managed the complex where my apartment was located that my rent was going to increase. From 850€ to 1200€. I knew perfectly well this was going to happen since this Company (bear in mind this is not a landlord but a company managing apartments purely for profit) had evicted dozens of people a year before in a similar apartment complex and I knew there and then it would happen too in the place I am Living. And so the letter came in and rest assured I wasn’t the only one affected by it, the whole complex had their rents increased in the same way. Whole families suddenly could not afford the place where they where living. All done through a cold, one page letter.

I immediately rang the Assets Management Company to try to renegotiate a lesser rent increase but to no avail. I started to think that, it would be in the interest of the place I’m working at to actually intervene since so many of the employees that worked at this company lived in those apartments and so I thought that would be a better course of action.

My next working day was a Sunday and just by chance the company director, the big boss of the whole office was there, to this day I have no idea why he was in on a Sunday since working weekends was just for the “lower classes” of the company and everyone else would enjoy normal Saturday/Sunday weekends and 9 to 5 jobs.

As soon I saw him I asked to have a word, and we went into a meeting room where I explained the whole situation. Unsurprisingly I was met with total apathy. “well some of the people working here will probably reconsider staying here. And if you think it’s bad now it will definitely continue to be worse.” This was said with such an apathy taking two sips from his coffee and basically really saying “I could not care less about it” or “the company does not give a shit about you. We pay you to work and that’s it, so sort yourself out or get the fuck out”


Welcome to the Family

These where the first words on the Employer’s guide book I got when I got hired. It followed pages and pages saying how I was basically saved from mundane jobs by working in that company and how they would take good care of me The Poor Hopeless Employee that would go to new heights now that I was part of that professional family.

By this time you might be thinking, how I was so naive to think they would care about it. I should know, that’s how corporations work right? You are a mindless drone and that’s it. But for me at the time this was the final nail in the coffin. The final push I needed to fully understand my place was far away from that office space, from that company. But let me explain why…

For someone that moved from another country for this job everything seemed almost magical, to a naive mind not used to international corporate world this seemed like a paradise job. But that reality kept crumbling bit by bit.

Early on me and the other employees hired with me where definitely treated differently to what I now know would stand easily in a court of law as discrimination. Other episodes would definitely be considered workplace harassment even interfering heavily with my health.

But there’s just enough anyone can take and slowly the naive mind wises up and a revolution becomes inevitable…

‘I thought the memo was quite clear. What part didn’t you understand?’

And for many years I kept quiet, because i was part of “the family” and as such I should be grateful to be a part of it.

On that meeting with the “big boss” was when I said to myself enough is enough! I remember this clear as water, by the end of next year I would not be working here.

From that day on I stopped interacting with every single work colleague and only had human contact at my workplace with friends I could trust. I would arrive at my time to work, do my work and go back home. Not one word to any single manager or work colleague. Meetings where one sided, I was a complete wall. This wall became unbreakable and only grew stronger anytime they tried to pry it open. And believe me, they tried!

They started with extreme micro management so The Wall, me, started to have every single interaction in writing, as such there is always a “witness” through written words. But that was just the beginning. They forcefully changed my shift as a way to break me. And even came to the point of Micromanaging my bathroom breaks.

The intention was very clear, harass me enough so I end up leaving while they would wash their hands in innocence! But leaving was already my plan except I would put it into practice in my own words and my own time. I needed to figure out an “escape plan” first. That escape plan would end up being Cork Crafts. And as it took shape I slowly became aware that there was nothing they could do that would intimidate me and that it was actually them that should start to fear what I had to say. But now, in their naivety they still thought they had the upper hand…

“I will always be here if you need anything”

These where the last words from the manager that harassed me for years, before I left to the shift she forced me into. You can imagine the tone and body language this empty promise was made. Like a real life Cersei from Game of Thrones.

But I did not reply.

The “Escape Plan” was already taking shape….

————————————————————————————————

In March 2017, on a long walk in the countryside with my beloved partner, we stopped to rest by a tree and noticed the bark of the tree was different. It was a young Cork Tree with it’s first cork bark growing. I rubbed my hand on the cork and the smell of it was in my hands. And I remembered all the cork products in the shops. From the wallets to umbrellas and hats! Hat I actually had just recently bought one!

And suddenly I realize I had never seen such products in Ireland, quite literally there was no cork in Cork! This idea started to brew in my mind, and so on my lunch breaks I was watching videos about cork on youtube. At home I’d start to read more and more about this bark from an oak tree.

And so, in May 2017 I went a weekend to Portugal and walked into a Cork Shop.

i immediately became friends with the owner as we had met before already years early when cork products first exploded. I bought from him a number of products a vast selection of items, put them in my luggage and tried my luck in The Fair Alternative.

It was an immediate success! But there was a problem.

At my day job, in my new shift that my beloved employers forced me into, I was working Saturdays. Saturdays was the day that The Fair Alternative was on..

Though the shift I could not do nothing about it, my new manager was extremely comprehensive and despised what other managers where doing. She fully understood where I was coming from in regards to my previous experiences and fully supported my new business. She kept pulling strings to give me Saturdays and when it wasn’t possible she managed to make it that I could work after the market.

And so, once my holidays where finished and I could not book anymore Saturdays as holidays, I started working half days at work and full days at the market. This meaning I’d go to the market from 8 AM to 6 PM walk home with all the market gear and then work 5 hours on my daytime job. if you’d see me at that time dragging a big blue suitcase across Cork City Center into Blackpool every Saturday at a very quick pace!

Other times my partner would come and stay at the market so I’d go and setup the stall at 8 AM with her. Start working at 11 AM, at my normal workplace, at my lunch time cycle to the market pack everything back, help her unload at home and then back to work 5 more hours.

And so this was Summer 2017.

But everything was about to change and The “Escape Plan” finally completed. Through much persuasion from my new manager i finally got my shift change, in very short terms, my “brilliant” previous manager had left her position and there was no opposition to me getting the shift where i would have Saturdays off. The problem though the managers under her where under the same school of “micromanagement galore” The kind of manager that since taken position had led to a bunch of employees to actually leave the company.

i knew immediately this was it and understood how I could use this to my advantage. I knew I would not permit having my dignity and my rights as a human being stepped on again. I knew immediately there would be conflict, there would be attempts at discrediting me, destroying my reputation and killing me psychologically to keep the control they wanted to have over me.

An authentic real life Game of Thrones (but less bloody) at a corporate level like they had done so many times before with so many including me.

And being fully aware of this I prepared for battle. I was ready to fight to the ultimate consequences in a psychological game that only the most intelligent could win.

I was quite effectively walking into a snake pit. And I was ready to fight them to the very end if necessary…


undefined

Two Years of Cork Crafts

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. 🙂

Where’s the online shop!? #shoplocal

“Good morning Johnny!” I greet my stall neighbor in a friendly manner on that sunny morning in Macroom. We end up talking a bit about how the markets are going. The market is abuzz with the regulars. Coming for some groceries and staying for some lunch. It’s not a busy market anymore but used to be and still is one of the oldest around County Cork

maCROOM

Of the farmer’s markets we do, our favorite became Skibereen. With such a good crowd and food producers. It is one of the most lively markets we can find in Ireland. From fresh bread, to fresh coffee, to organic vegetables, this market has it all. Then there’s the brick a brack, the book seller, the artist and even the poet. All of them sell here.

skib

But the truth is, these markets, once the soul of the communities they integrate, are dying. They are dying because of the convenience of getting everything in a centralized mass produced style. This convenience became the norm to the point that nowadays we even avoid any human contact when we are shopping. We end up giving money to a machine while scanning all the products we bought on the convenient global supermarket. We end up paying way more for what we want to buy, to have it marketed to us in a nice presentable plastic bag, in a specific number of units.

p05w5tk2

What if I want one onion? No! I have to buy six, wrapped in plastic. I want a soup? I can get it in the cold section in a nice plastic container. Oats? Cereals? Only from this or that specific brand and in their formatted container. And what about bread? Well! Some supermarkets noticed that people want fresh bread so they invest in having bakeries where before was only a wall of cutely, plastic wrapped bread.

Then comes the time to pay. And we go (as mentioned above) into a long queue for the “quick” check out, avoiding interaction with even the cashier that passes what you want to buy through a scanner. Sometimes, nowadays even the cashiers are waiting for costumers while the quick or self checkout queue grows…

Self_checkout_using_NCR_Fastlane_machines

In truth, we just become more and more alienated, we don’t interact with anyone in this artificially lit environment only created to make you want to buy something more from the next big promotion.

But think about it? How do you think a supermarket can sell such cheap fruit and vegetables? At what expense are these vegetables that cheap? How can they do it?

I will leave it to you to discover that information for yourself, but there is a reason you don’t find your local farmers produce in any big chain supermarket.

But why are we writing about this? We are writing about this because we strongly support local markets and local producers. We strongly believe these markets to be the heart and soul of the community and that they are particularly important in making us engage socially with each other.

1233087.large

We strongly believe that what is important is to buy from your local producers. And not only this, from your local shoe shops and clothes shops. It’s shocking to see in so many small shops around Cork how the main costumers are regulars from years past and the younger generations progressively skip the act of shopping from local shops.

In our view this is a symptom of a growing problem. A problem that creates an alienation between trader and buyer. Where there’s increasingly no connection between the person you buy from and the product you buy. The person is removed and only the product is important. This is epitome of what is called fast shopping.

It is easier to go into a big brand shop with 3 or 4 floors of clothes and buy there your clothes and then… Then wait in a long queue for one of the 15 cashiers to be available for you to pay. There’s no smiles no interest in talking with the cashier that’s not important only the thing you want.

This alienation and dehumanization of the process of buying products is even more blatant online. Everything is meant to be easy! To make your money quickly spread to a number of online shops in exchange of goods, be it physical or digital! The quicker the whole process the better and nothing else matters. It does not matter who made the product, how it was made and even if it’s a fair price for it.

Google-Will-now-Block-Annoying-Online-Ads-in-Chrome

All that matters is getting the product, pay for it and wait for it in the mail.

This fast process of shopping creates a constant alienation between the costumer and the seller. There’s no kind of social interaction and is pure a simple extreme consumerism. The product is nothing more than that, a thing. Though, in reality, each of these things we buy, have a whole timeline of events that lead to it being in your mailbox waiting for you to get it. And all these events where caused by other humans.

Therefore when you shop,  you have chance to ensure that all those events have a positive impact in the world that surrounds you.

But what happens at your local crafts market you say? For starters you get to know the person you are buying from. Be it a local artist or artisan that will explain to you every single process to make something.

Is it cheaper than getting it online? Probably not, and that is because these products you are buying are locally made. Not made in a country on the other side of the world where people are exploited, work long hours surrounded by chemicals and can even die to get the clothes, shoes, hats or even that pet rock you gave your aunt as a joke on her 46th birthday. done for you.

And what if you don’t want to interact with people? Fair enough! That is your choice! Though your choice will always means that your local shopkeeper and your local farmer, shoemaker, artisan will be left at a disadvantage in front of these gigantic corporations designed only to make you spend more money.

12801154_10154061236404446_997464114769297457_n

So what does this all means for Cork Crafts?

Essentially, we have been told time and time again how important an online shop is. How selling online is the future. How we can’t have a business if we’re not online.

But we disagree.

The most important part of a business is to interact with the costumer. Is to create an experience for every sale. A backpack can just be a backpack. Or… it can be a backpack handmade in Portugal with cork that is a sustainable product.

20181021_114717

A necklace can just be a pretty necklace. Or… it can be a handmade necklace painstakingly put together by experienced independent artisans that live off those same necklaces.

43379003_2249558525263358_663838056599519232_o

It is true though, that this could all be explained in this nice website, explaining the whole process of it. But for us it is more important to explain to everyone how the products are made to have an actual conversation about the item you are about to buy (or not). To even talk about the weather, the sustainable world, geopolitics or even just some random gossip!

With all of this said we admit that we are against buying online. We believe in buying local from your local traders anywhere you can find them. We believe in making time to get to know what you are getting and not just impulse buy our products.

However!

We also understand that we have a number of friends all over Ireland now and it is not fair for us to demand from them to travel to County Cork to buy our products. Therefore we are working on getting the online shop ready. Despite the fact it really is not our business objective.

Looking forward. For 2019 we will start looking into stocking local shops with our cork goods, so we can make sure our friends all over Ireland can have access to our goods.

With this said, if you know of any shop around Ireland that may be interested in stocking our products, let us know either by private message or by commenting below.

Lastly, if you read this until the end! Thank you! We really appreciate it.

See you soon at your local market! #shoplocal

Introducing Hand Color

37791954_1861551637268989_4846449214294589440_n

It was a warm August evening in Silves during it’s Annual Medieval Fair. The cobblestone streets and alleys where packed with visitors dressed in different colors that attended the variety of medievally themed stalls around the old part of the city.

Suddenly from behind a stall someone calls my name “Hey Vasco!” I recognized the smiling man but something was amiss. The last time I had seen him, we where both Archaeology students in a roman dig in nearby Lagos and he had  long black hair in a pony tail that was now gone. That’s why I couldn’t immediately recognize him.

Back then, 8 years before, things where different and we both wanted to make Archaeology a living…

“Paulo! You cut your hair dude!” I said smiling. – How are you my friend? Are you working here?”
“I am! This is what me and Joana do now – Joana was Paulo’s wife and both of them worked on their products. While we talked Paulo kept working on a necklace he was preparing to have it ready for sale. I asked then the obvious question.”And Archaeology?”
“Stopped working on it, Now I do this fulltime, we go around the country doing markets and festivals, and that’s more than enough!” and he pointed at his stall.

18559031_1398672946890196_4008354872247573958_o

 

Only then I took a deeper look at their stall and noticed imediately it reminded me of Roman Mosaics, tile by tile making small pieces of art in the shape of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.

But not only that but also the characteristic Portuguese cobblestones that are a part of every single sidewalk in Portugal.

13450851_1068803896543771_3213028108515402557_n

And then there was the artistic “deviation” from this simple pattern, the tiny tiles in black and white where simply multiplying in a myriad of colors and geometric forms creating a spectacle of colors…

16602643_1296818203742338_544427763417301649_n

And ranges, from necklaces to bracelets to rings…

18222697_1382227845201373_7576419961325203071_n

We talked for a good while about how they did their craft, how the market work goes and everything in between, like good friends talking after years of not seeing each other and catching up on all those years apart while the night slowly fell on the medieval city…

298386_10150745408595635_5100321_n.jpg

We ended up saying our goodbyes and we both went our different paths.

——-
Years later when, Cork Crafts was starting there was one major point of it’s inception. To have a way of giving a gateway for Portuguese artisans to sell their crafts but it had to be intimately related to cork.

Immediately I got in touch with Paulo and Joana again. I really wanted to get their work to be a part of Cork Crafts. In my mind the color of cork would make a great contrast with all the colorful sets from Hand Color.

Ended up meeting them in their shop in Cabanas and we agreed it would be a great opportunity to get their designs outside of Portugal and at the same time to have  it as an exclusive cork collection of their necklaces. Lucky for us, Paulo remembered they had some left over cork strings from an experiment few years back and therefore, the first collection of cork necklaces was born:

From there on, Hand Color has been a constant part of our stall at each market, from Cork City, to Bantry, passing through Killarney, the necklaces and bracelets have been a complete success.

For me personally, it’s great to represent Paulo and Joana’s work, crafts from a small town on the south of Portugal to the whole south of Ireland and, with the cork twist!

With all of this in mind, I’m very happy to say that we will  continue to work with Hand Color. And if you ever end up in Cabanas and Mertola, look for Hand Colors shop! And if you meet Joana and Paulo say hi to them from us. 🙂

37904246_1861552283935591_2588585057111244800_n.jpg

Fires in the Algarve

Firefighters and soldiers battle Algarve fires as temperatures hit 45 degrees

 

5f5ba4c48076969be3e02c841fc42ce7
A bush fire a scene more and more common in Portugal.

You probably saw this on the news and we had to write about it. The fire has now spread across three councils and even the Reproductive center for the endangered Iberian Lynx was evacuated,

 
All lynxes are safe in Spain in another center, thankfully.
 
We just had to write about this because this is again, and again the same problem. The consecutive destruction of native trees in favor of the very profitable eucalyptus…
 
Portugal continues to be the third country in the world with more Eucalyptus, after Australia and India… now compare in size Portugal to Australia or India!
 
The problem with the Eucalyptus is that it’s a tree which it’s own nature is to burn, the so called “bush fires” are natural parts of the ecosystem this tree is a part of.
 
Trees like the cork oak tree are not so prone to burn, the cork bark itself is a fire retardant and not something readily flammable like the eucalyptus bark.
 
In Portugal though, there are huge lobbies at play here as this “invasive” tree is used to produce paper and guess what’s one of Portugal biggest exports? Paper…
And take a guess at where the fire started and what kind of tree continues to burn effusively? The Eucalyptus.
 
We are not going to name any companies, but the biggest paper companies in the world are based in Portugal.
 
And this is achieved by the constant destruction of ecosystems nationwide to plant the very flammable eucalyptus.
 
It is sad that when one travels through Portugal at some point the landscape is fulled Eucalyptus as far as the eye can see.
 
At Cork Crafts we believe in a fully sustainable future and we understand that this is only possible when we stop destroying ecosystems in favor of making a quick buck.
 
Your company may last a few years but what’s at stake?
 
Where will your paper company be in 100 years? 200 years? Specially now in the advent of the digital world and much of the world going paperless more and more?
 
But all is not lost.
 

There is a growing consciousness in Portugal, there are good people doing good deeds, understanding how important the native ecosystem is and planting cork oaks, fig trees, almond trees and so many native saplings.

So we will keep our hopes up that one day we can reclaim our ecosystem and we will stop having so many fires.

 
– Vasco Carto

 

 

montado2.png__675x0_q95_crop_upscale
A typical view of a Montado where the cork oak grows and it’s bark harvested.