Vegan leather fashions are springing up all over the world lately, from haute couture to affordable street wear. With its unique combination of style, performance, and small environmental footprint, cork leather is gaining global buzz.
With 2016 being hailed as “the year of the vegan”, the Google search term shot up with a 90% increase over the past year. But interest in sustainable topics is more than just a trend- it’s become a global movement, thanks to animal rights groups, YouTube and Instagram influencers. Now, fashion designers around the globe are keeping the ball rolling with innovative cork leather clothing on the runway.
Why Sustainable Fashion?
Unlike so many other trends -which are often “out” as quickly as they’re “in”- the popularity of eco-fashion is evidence of a bigger issue. As eco-consciousness makes waves in the fashion world, there is a growing reaction against animal leathers and fur and a growing demand for green materials.
Thankfully for the future of our planet, knowledge of our rapidly depleting resources cannot be unlearned. Ethics run deeper than superficial trends, and consciousness can only increase. Fashion Positive, an initiative for sustainable practices, named “plant-based alternatives to leather” In their November of 2016 Critical Materials List as a critical, high-priority category which the fashion industry urgently needs to pursue.
Turning Cork into Fabric
Italian seamstress Anna Grindi grew up surrounded by cork trees on the island of Sardinia. She saw cork’s potential to be a great alternative fabric source. But due to its rough imperfections, she saw the need to do some experiments. Starting in 1997, she engineered a way of pressing and treating cork to form strips thin enough to be sewn like leather. The resulting “cork leather” was treated with the waxy, water-resistant resin of the cork oak called suberin.
She named the resulting material Suberis after Quercus Suber, the Latin name for the cork oak tree. Launched in a 2000 fashion show in Italy, it was a hit which quickly made its way into the collections of fashion designers around the world.
Suberis is a game-changing material which has all the incredible strength and insulation of natural cork. Now cork can be used as a thin, velvet-soft, lightweight fabric which requires no weaving. It’s a revolutionary material and a great eco-friendly alternative to leather.
Head-to-Toe Cork Couture in Amsterdam
Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau has dressed royalty as well as pop stars. He created a dreamy collection for the runway in 2011 called Honor to Women in which cork featured heavily. Taminiau created innovative haute couture gowns and platform boots entirely of cork. Lady Gaga wore two pieces from the collection in her video for the song “You and I”.
Photo credit: http://www.klaraplaskova.com/images/start_slide1.jpg
Deconstructing the Skirt in the Czech Republic
Klara Plaskova uses negative space to give cork leather an exciting new drapability. Beginning with a high-quality material, she processes it in innovative ways. Her current line of clothing features some beautiful laser-cut cork pieces. By removing some of the weight with from the overall bulk of each sheet, she opens up new possibilities for this material’s use in fashion.
Strong Colors in Germany
The Berlin-based Domokosch line is designed by Katharina Domokosch who hails from the Alps. She is interested in the raw beauty of the mountain landscape and of ceremonial clothing. There is an interesting punk aesthetic to the bright colors she paints onto the natural cork with purposefully jagged outlines. These oversized pieces celebrate the strong rigidity of cork rather than try to tame it. Added pieces of faux fur give her oversized jackets the look of giant animal pelts worn to survive a long winter.
Clean-Lined Structure in Columbia
Jorge Duque is a rising star from Columbia who was featured on the first ever South American version of Project Runway. He manages to make cork leather look precisely structured yet flowing with some carefully arranged pleats and darker accent materials.
A Jacket by Way of Industrial Design in the U.S.A.
This cool coat was shown at Wallpaper magazine’s annual Handmade exhibition at the Milan Furniture Salon. Portuguese cork manufacturers Amorim challenged the American industrial designer Todd Bracher to create an object from their material. He was fascinated by cork leather’s properties and found it seemed to have a life of its own. Taking inspiration from the strength of the material, he created a wearable jacket design that stands in a class by itself.
Art Meets Life in Mexico City
Salomon Shayo created the brand Salo.Shayo in his hometown of Mexico City. The materials and labor all come from the hands of artisans in Mexico City as well. His love of contemporary art shows in the playfully oversized lacing and the childlike simplicity of the cut-out shapes of cork leather he pieces together in this Cork collection.
Knitted Cork from Portugal
One way to make cork leather even lighter and more flexible is to take it apart and knit it back together into something entirely new. With their line of cork dresses and scarves, Mónica Gonçalves and Ruben Damásio of the Casa GRIDGI collective reshape the image of this material. Suddenly it has movement, thanks to this loosely knitted structure.
The Softer Side of Cork from Germany
The Terials brand is based in Germany and uses Portuguese and Italian cork. They are fully committed to incorporating sustainable practices into their products, which are handmade by members of a local German social reintegration program. What’s striking about this shirt is how thin and drape-able it makes cork leather look. This is achieved by attaching it to an inner layer of denim which gives the cork a free-flowing illusion. The denim used is upcycled, to boot.
A Playful Romp from South Africa
Young emerging designer Megan Taljaard created this stunningly constructed dress to showcase the beauty of cork leather. It features an inner lining of cotton for soft drape, and a boning structure to emphasize the shape of its interestingly cut seams. It has a minimalist yet feminine look with the simple flow of its curved lines, as well as some cool futuristic cut-outs. This dress really has fun exploring cork leather’s potential.
The Futuristic Sheen of Black Cork from England
A young UK designer chose cork for her Masters thesis project at the Royal College of Art. Her fantastical designs have a deconstructed look which reimagines cork leather as a material sent from the future. She uses black dyed cork for its mysterious, leather-like sheen and dramatic silhouette. These striking looks are somewhere in between high-tech and organic, paving a new way for this fashion-disrupting material, still in its infancy.
Cork Fashion Accessories from Corature
Last but not least - corature. We're aiming to bring cork to the masses with our affordable, durable, cork fashion accessories. From minimalist wallets to tote bags - we aim to make products that appeal to everyone.
Making Cork Leather Part of Your Everyday Look
This material has a high-fashion look, but it’s not just for the runway. It’s easy to mix cork into your casual look as well, as it’s affordable and neutral-toned. It can be as simple as throwing on a pair of cork sandals with jeans or carrying around a cork wristlet wallet. Try combining it with a pop of bright color for contrast. Bright primary colors or throwback neon shades always work well next to its neutral hue. It also looks sharp when paired with clean, solid textures like recycled plastic and rubber. These smooth, shiny materials are the perfect compliment for cork’s down-to-earth organic pattern.
We love cork leather for its versatile look, comfortable feel, and long-lasting durability. Combine its environmentally friendly nature, and there’s a lot going for this material which promises a bright future in fashion.