David Sebek, our senior GLN reporter and blogger, recently interviewed EcoCork as part of our article series on sustainable companies and living.
I am sitting in the press room with Taciana de Aguiar at Natural Products Expo West 2015. Taciana, a native of Portugal, founded EcoCork in 2013. EcoCork is a sustainable business that utilizes cork, the bark of the Mediterranean oak tree, as the main material. Cork is an extraordinary product. Endemic to Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa, cork is impermeable, buoyant, elastic and fire retardant. It is also 100% natural, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. It is thus considered environmentally friendly and sustainable, since cork trees are not cut down during the harvesting of cork.
According to Taciana, EcoCork was started with the intention of introducing an idea to the U.S. market: cork is a viable, hip, fashion-forward and, most importantly, sustainable alternative to leather. My conversation with Taciana reveals that EcoCork offers a line of products which includes handbags and cross-body bags, computer and yoga bags, pouches, wallets, hats, jewelry, cell phone cases and other accessories — all of which are made of cork. Many products in the line are 100% vegan.
Taciana sets one of her handbags down on the table where we are seated and shares: “This is the convertible bag.” I lift the bag up and find that it is beautifully designed and incredibly lightweight. The soft, organic texture of cork is evident. This particular bag features a cross-body strap as well as metal handles, so it can be worn two ways.
I set the bag down and Taciana retrieves a coordinating woman’s large wallet. Once again I am surprised by the light weight and how beautifully designed the item is. The wallet also is a light shade of tan, lined in a rich dark brown “vegan ultra-suede.” She then shows me the evening clutch, a petite bag for nights on the town, in a gorgeous tan and gray marble texture. “All of our products are water and stain resistant, and anti-microbial,” Taciana points out. She also tells me that “cork is truly an amazing, adaptable material.” I think we would all agree on that. While researching information for this article, I later learn that there about 6.6 million acres of Mediterranean cork forest extending from Portugal to France. I also learn that these forests contain biodiversity second only to the Amazonian Rainforest.
“Is cork itself sustainable?” I ask. Taciana answers me with complete assurance: “One hundred percent. Portugal’s cork production has a long history of sustainability. Portugal’s over 5-million acres of oak forests are harvested by skilled workers trained for eight years. The workers are the highest paid harvesters in all of Europe. The average life span of a medium sized cork tree is between 125 to 250 years. Trees can be harvested once they reach the age of 25, afterwards they can be re-tapped every 9 to 12 years, enough time to allow the bark to regrow. The tree can be harvested about 12 times during its lifespan.”
“EcoCork products are durable, lightweight, waterproof, and easy to clean. Most importantly, cork is sustainable, eco friendly and cruelty-free. It’s the hip, green alternative to leather. We hope to leverage the power of the worldwide sustainability movement as well as the entertainment and fashion industries, and are confident that the business will catch on on the Los Angeles area,” Taciana says. To see the entire line of EcoCork’s products go to www.ecocork.us.
EcoCork is allied with the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, based in Salem, Oregon, which campaigns globally for the protection and preservation of the Mediterranean cork forest, its inhabitants and biodiversity through education, direct action, and partnerships with communities, businesses and governments. EcoCork donates a percentage of their profits to the Alliance while also aiming to work closely with them to raise awareness of cork harvesting, varied uses of the material and forest conservation.
At GLN, we are hopeful that, as the age of sustainability gains momentum, a new awareness will arise not just about sustainable products and materials, such as cork, but also about more ethical and peaceful ways to treat each other, nature’s animals, and also nature itself. In honoring the spirit of the cork tree and allowing it to peacefully regenerate and renew itself over the course of its life, we also honor our own abilities to regenerate, grow and renew as human beings.