What is Cork Leather?
The best leather alternative.
Cork leather is made from the bark of Cork Oaks. Cork Oaks grow naturally in the Mediterranean region of Europe, which produces 80% of the world’s cork. The cork is hand cut from the tree in planks, dried for six months, boiled in water, flattened and pressed into sheets. A fabric backing is then pressed on the cork sheet, which is bonded by suberin, a naturally occurring adhesive present in the cork. The resulting product is flexible, soft and strong and is the most environmentally friendly ‘vegan leather’ on the market.
Cork leather has a smooth, relatively matte finish, an appearance which improves over time. It is water resistant, flame resistant and hypoallergenic. Fifty per cent of the volume of cork is air and consequently products made from cork leather are lighter than their leather counterparts. The honeycomb cell structure of cork makes it an excellent insulator: thermally, electrically and acoustically. The high friction coefficient of cork means that it is durable in situations where there is regular rubbing and abrasion, such as the treatment we give our purses and wallets. For upholstery applications, a finish is applied that raises the durability, water and stain resistance even beyond what cork has naturally. The elasticity of cork guarantees that a cork leather article will retain its shape and because it does not absorb dust it will remain clean.
Cork is the outer bark of an evergreen oak of the genus and species Quercus Suber (oak cork). Forests of oak cork trees are carefully monitored and cultivated, and act as a renewable source for this remarkable material.
During a harvest, the outer bark of a cork oak’s trunk and major branches is carefully stripped by hand – no mechanical stripping devices are allowed. Experienced cork strippers use a specialized cork axe to slit the outer bark and peel it away from the tree. A cork tree regenerates its precious outer layer 12 or 13 times during its 150-year lifetime. The first stripping of the cork bark occurs when the tree is between 15 and 20 years of age, with subsequent yields at 9 to 10 year intervals.
The harvested cork bark is removed from the forests, and are left out in the open air for six months. This weathering process actually improves the cork’s quality.
The cork bark is then sorted by quality and size. The first use is for the extraction of cork stoppers to meet the demands of the world’s wine and champagne industries, which use over 13 billion cork stoppers annually.
A growing amount of this highest quality cork is now used in the production of innovative products such as Cork Fabric for the fashion and accessories industries or Cork Leather for the furniture industry.
History of Cork
Very old and yet very modern
Cork Through the Ages:
Cork has been used for thousands of years as a stopper in bottles. It has even been found in the tombs dating back to ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks and Romans also made good use of it, and it was found use as floats for fishing nets, sandals, wine bottle stoppers and even personal flotation devices for fishermen. Villagers used it to build their homes, as its insulative properties kept them warm in winter and cool in summer. It also made the floors soft and comfortable to walk on and was resistant to attack from insects and other pests.
As the years went on, cork continued to find its main use as a bottle stopper, and at a time when wine or beer was safer to drink than most water, this was vital. Up until the mid 1700’s, it was usually harvested from where it was growing naturally, but its increasing use led to it being purposefully cultivated. Starting in 1688, Pierre Perignon used corks held in place with wire to seal bottles of his latest creation, champagne.
In 1892, the mass produced cork lined crown cap lid ( better known as a bottle cap) was invented by American William Painter, who became very wealthy from his invention. It was the industry standard until 1955, when it was replaced by the plastic stopper.
A German company developed a method in 1890 for using waste cork. They combined it with a binding agent so that it could be rolled into sheets to be cut into whatever shape was desired. This is called agglomerated or compound cork. John Smith discovered that, by using heat and pressure to release the naturally occurring resins, he could create a conglomerate of cork particles that didn’t need any binder.
Today, Industry leader PortugaliaCork has developed, through innovative research, many new uses for cork. Cork Leather with the high performance "Touch Pro" finish makes their Cork Leather the perfect vegan alternative to traditional bovine leather.