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  • Debbie MacPherson

Cork - The Best Alternative to Leather

I've been handcrafting leather handbags for 24 years, it's a fantastic material to work with, however, for the past few years I've wanted to introduce an alternative to offer customers who are vegan or choose not to wear leather. In my search, the main objectives were to find a material that looked amazing and had the strength, water resistance and durability of leather.

I'm a huge fan of natural materials, so the use of 'Pleather' (PU or PVC based leather effect

fabric) did not sit well with me at all due it's environmental impact. I researched and tried a few more ethical plant based alternatives but sadly their look and texture did not live up to expectation. Then I discovered cork fabric or cork 'leather' as it is also widely known, I was completely converted and from there the Freeload Cork range was born.



During my search I soon discovered that there are many varying grades of cork fabric and the phrase 'you get what you pay for' is most definitely true in the case of purchasing cork. I came across some shockingly low quality and quite flimsy fabrics before I found the upholstery graded cork fabric I settled on. This cork fabric undergoes a range of mechanical strength and durability tests. I'm a firm believer that if a substantial amount of time is spent on handcrafting an item, the quality of the material has to justify the time and skills spent on it. A cork bag is most definitely a personal and environmental choice and not a lower cost alternative to leather.


Here's a bit more information about the production and benefits of cork:


How is Cork 'Leather' Made?


Once removed from the tree the cork is left to dry out for 6 months. After this period the cork is boiled in water to enhance it's elasticity. It's then shaved into very thin sheets and layered onto a fabric backing with glue. Finally a non-toxic sealant is applied.



What are the benefits of Cork 'Leather'?

* A Natural Material

* 100% Plant based

* Produces no waste in extraction, processing or production.

* Recyclable

* Highly water resistant

* From a sustainable source

* Stain resistant

* Light-weight

* Durable




How Eco-Friendly is Cork 'Leather'?


Cork is a completely sustainable and renewable source. The Cork Oak is the only tree where all of the bark can be removed without harming the trunk. Harvesting the cork is both beneficial to the growth of the tree and the environment in general, as during the natural regeneration process, following stripping, the tree increases its ability to absorb CO2, meaning a regularly harvested tree absorbs more CO2 over it's life time than an un-harvested tree helping to decrease air pollution.



A Cork Oak can live up to 300 years and can be harvested every 9 years, therefore providing a supply of cork for many generations and also provide a home for the hundreds of animal and plant species that reside in the Cork Oak forests.


Cork is both recyclable and biodegradable, there is also a very low ecological impact in the extraction and manufacturing process of cork fabric compared to many other materials such as plastic.


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