Portugal Ascending in the Age of Sustainability | Cork Element

Washington (GGM) Analysis | November 9, 2020 by Noreen Wise

Portugal is ascending. Sustainability is the the critical path forward in our effort to curb global warming and become carbon neutral. For ambitious overachievers, sustainability will ride us all the way to carbon negative. Successful sustainability is about adjusting every single one of our everyday small choices and shifting to sustainable options. What food do we eat? How is it packaged? Do we drive an EV, or walk, ride a bike? Are we using a bamboo toothbrush, refusing plastic straws? Do we have a vegan leather cork bag?

Yes, that’s right. A luxurious, sustainable, vegan leather cork bag? The new vegan leather that shines a glowing spotlight on the green horizons of the $32 billion women’s accessories industry. In fact, according to Infinium Global Research, by the year 2025, the vegan leather industry alone will be a massive, thriving $89.5 billion industry.

Cork stands out amongst other vegan leather alternatives. The cork comes from cork trees, native to Portugal, which according to Cycling Centuries, produces approximately 50 percent of the world’s supply of commercial cork, and 70 percent of cork’s world trade. These evergreen oaks cover the the Alentejo region of southwest Portugal, with their knotted forms quickly catching the eye of passersby. Many of the trunks are marked for harvesting the cork, or have the outer bark of their lower trunks already peeled off, exposing the reddish wood underneath. 

Thankfully, peeling the cork from the evergreen oak trunk causes no harm. These mighty beauties live approximately 200 years; their cork bark is harvested every nine years. I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the vital importance of high quality cork in preserving our favorite wines, with some of these cork plugs protecting the quality of standout rare wines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thus, consumers should have full confidence in cork’s durability in serving as the ideal leather alternative.

With sustainability becoming such a huge global issue following the 2015 Paris Agreement, innovative solutions have sprung up everywhere. Enter three creative Portuguese trailblazers — Joao Guimaraes Paiva, Hugo Diaz and Debasmita Bhattacharjee — who knew all about cork and were excited to step into this maximumly competitive ring and introduce their handmade line of vegan leather cork bags to global consumers. It was exactly a year ago, in November 2019, that they founded Cork Element.

It’s exhilarating to see such a beautiful collection of luxurious handmade bags crafted by a brand new company and founded for the sole purpose of delivering sustainable vegan leather bags to meet the goal of lowering our global atmospheric carbon level. Many of the top fashion designers now have cork bags as an alternative to their animal leather products. However, I personally feel it’s much more gratifying to purchase a cork bag from an ethical innovator that doesn’t believe in killing animals for profit and doesn’t simultaneously sell such products alongside their cork leather line. 

Cork Element bags are all manufactured in Portugal. The team outlined the process for manufacturing their high quality handmade products as follows:

  • the cork is harvested and stripped from the trees
  • it arrives at the factory and is boiled in water, which expands the cells and makes the cork more pliable 
  • no toxic chemicals are used
  • the cork is shaved down into thin sheets the same thickness as tissue paper
  • cork is naturally water and dust resistant, but Cork Element seals the cork sheet with a non-toxic sealant to keep it from getting dirty
  • cork can get wet, but leather cannot; in fact, cork leather can even be washed in the machine

Cork Element: “Cork fabric is durable as leather and as versatile as fabric. This material is environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic, water resistant and stain resistant as well as easily cleaned and long lasting.”

I asked the Cork Element team what official statement they’d like to make to American and Canadian consumers about their fabulous cork leather collections:

Cork is an extremely good alternative to leather and it’s a much better material than leather. Cork is water resistant, stain resistant and a durable material. As we are fighting for animal rights every day, cork is a material with a cause. Cork Oak trees provide home to biodiversity around Portugal and Mediterranean regions. It’s a very simple material with no chemical processes unlike leather. If you love animals and like leather, America and Canada should definitely try out this beautiful tree leather.

With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, what better way to celebrate a new US president, as well as our renewed commitment to curb global warming by rejoinig the Paris Agreement, than by purchasing a cork bag for all the women in your life.

Cork Element bags are currently available:

We hope many more US & Canadian retailers and online marketplaces will pick up the Cork Element brand and offer these beautiful handmade collections to their animal loving, eco-friendly, suitability focused customers!

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