When we first heard of bags made of cork we were understandably skeptical. Why would anyone want to tote around what is essentially a bulletin board on their arm? But with the durability, sustainability and light flexibility of the material, it almost makes sense that someone would try to make a better fabric from it—and someone did. Portuguese brand Pelcor began making cork accessories over 10 years ago and now creates pieces that range from blue bucket bags to orange envelope clutches. We took a look at the brand and one of their pieces—and what we found was actually pretty shocking.
Founded in 2003 by Sandra Correia, the granddaughter of a cork factory’s founder, Pelcor was created as a way to utilize sustainable materials in a way that hadn’t been done before. Her first design, a cork umbrella, was displayed at an international trade show and met with positive reviews, prompting Correia to take her project to the next level. Portuguese for “cork skin,” Pelcor is one of the biggest brands in Portugal today and is one of the largest representatives of the country’s fashion market. By 2010 Pelcor was contracted to design pieces for dignitaries including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. By 2011, Correia was awarded Best Entrepreneur in Europe.
But even with an amazing idea one needs the materials to back it up. Harvested only once every nine years (which is the amount it takes for the cork oak tree to regenerate itself), the bark is sorted by quality and thickness before it goes through a natural sun-drying process and water boil to turn it into a more malleable material. With trees that have a 250-350 year lifespan, cork is one of the most eco-friendly textiles as it is a biodegradable, renewable source with an ecological manufacturing process. But even with all its amazingly, good-for-the-earth properties the idea of wearing cork still seems a little—odd, right?
We thought so too. But when we actually tried a bag we were sudden converts—it was soft, light, durable, waterproof—we could go on, but what shocked us most was how the feel of the material was actually nothing like cork. It was soft to the touch and just as flexible as any other fabric—it felt more like a cloth or worn-in leather than the rough, chunky cork we were expecting. After passing it around the JustLuxe offices a few times (after which we still couldn’t believe it), we were convinced this was the coolest new thing that we’d seen this year. Wearing it around was even better. It was light. Almost too light—was there anything in there? And even when we did load it up with heavy makeup bags and overstuffed wallets it was strong, durable and still weighed less than our other bags. While these accessories are pretty cool, we can’t see them replacing everything in our wardrobe (ladies love their Birkins), but for their comfort, softness and eco-friendly design, we’re pretty sure they’ll have a permanent place in our closets.