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There are some influential eco-bloggers out there that just seem to have something against cork! The article I will be discussing in this "rebuttal" post (which I will not mention by name) is far from the only influential voice I have heard not giving cork a fair chance, but reading this article in particular, I felt compelled to discuss the points that were made and provide another perspective. The article in question was published in February of 2019.
So why did I feel the need to write an entire rebuttal blog post to this article? Read on and I will explain exactly why I felt it necessary to speak out to give my take on the subject discussed in the article.
Let's have a look...
Plant-Based Leather Options: Article Rebuttal
The article discussed in this rebuttal was written to address the following: "I’m looking into all the plant-based and synthetic vegan leather options, and asking the question: why aren’t more designers and brands using them?" The answers to this question are written in numbered paragraphs.
"Doesn't Appeal to a lot of People"
The first paragraph discusses the fact that many "fancy new vegan leathers" are not yet available and are still in test-phase, such as Muskin mushroom leather, fruit leather, and lab-grown leather. Okay, not sure I love the whole idea of natural vegan leather substitutes being called "fancy" in this sense, but yes, so far so good, this is true.
The second section is titled "Many leather alternatives don’t look as nice."
This is the title leading into the section where the author discusses cork.
In the first short paragraph about cork in this article, she states:
"Cork has a very specific look that doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. 'Even Portuguese don’t like cork accessories,' a Portuguese stylist told me this summer in Lisbon. This is a country where cork is a native tree, and cork accessories are pushed on all the tourists."
It seems strange to me that an ethical blogger would talk so badly about cork right off the bat, not even giving it a chance, just jumping on it as a bad idea from the first sentence. It's a completely negatively biased perspective regarding cork from the start, just basically saying in so many words, "Cork, um, no."
So let's analyze these assertions a bit further. "Cork has a very specific look that doesn't appeal to a lot of people." I don't see any sort of support behind this statement at all, and it serves no purpose other than to bash cork. There are certainly many people who cork both does and does not appeal to in this world, as I'd imagine is true for most things. This writing is an example of clear negative framing, stating, matter of factually, that cork has a "very specific" look (read: unattractive) that "doesn't appeal to a lot of people." Who exactly does it not appeal to? For what reasons? What about its "very specific" look do these tons and tons of supposed people not like?
Then, we read in the next sentence that "even the Portuguese don't like cork accessories." This was stated by a "Portuguese stylist in Lisbon" that the author spoke to, so I suppose being a Portuguese stylist makes her an authority on the subject of cork as well. This statement is far from true, although we have discussed the "strand of truth" in this statement in other articles. This is that Portuguese people love cork by and large, and it is something they often take for granted because it grows in Portugal and they've seen it all their lives. Some even say cork is a part of Portuguese DNA. But, they are not pleased with the upsurging trend of low-quality cork products made and sold at a low price point. There is a huge difference between low-quality cork products (as can be found in many places on the streets in Portugal and on the internet) and the extremely high-quality handmade cork products we carry in our store. This is why we started our store by personally going to Portugal to find the best designers to source our products from and witness their handmade high-quality production methods with our own eyes.
Then, we get to the part about cork accessories being "pushed on all the tourists," which I also find quite misleading. It makes it seem like those of us who love cork are just a bunch of naive, easily conned, ignorant "tourists" who got fooled by cork salesmen. Cork grows everywhere in Portugal and is an easily accessible raw material, so it isn't hard to imagine that lower quality, less expensive cork products would be sold in street markets in tourist-heavy areas. It's just the same as in Italy concerning animal leather. When you go walking down the streets of Florence, you are inundated with the amount of leather bags, wallets, and other products being sold in outdoor vendor markets in the street to tourists. Does this make leather also just something sold to silly tourists and discredited as a whole by this account? It would seem obvious that if you are buying a $10 cork purse or a $10 leather bag from a street vendor, the quality of craftsmanship and the material itself will likely be much lower than if you buy a handmade cork or a leather bag from an artisan designer.
It seems as though the end sentiment here is "You're an impressionable tourist if you like cork" or "us fashion authorities decided that cork simply isn't worth the discussion."
The next paragraph continues:
Personally, I have only found two brands that have beautiful cork accessories: UlStO does cork and felt, and Sydney Brown does cork on recycled synthetic vegan leather. (Cork often also has to be reinforced with another material.) I have not tested the former out, though I’ve seen it in person and the bags are indeed cute. I have tried shoes made with synthetic vegan leather from Sydney Brown (though not cork ones) and I’ve been disappointed with the fact that they do not break in the way leather shoes do. I ultimately donated them because of the consistent blisters they gave me."
We are happy to see that the author mentioned UlStO, one of the amazing brands that we sell at HowCork. But, on our website alone, we offer cork bags from 5 different incredible brands who work exclusively with cork. Besides the brands featured in our store, there are countless other brands and designers out there using cork in innovative ways. So, it is certainly not the case that there are only two brands that make beautiful cork accessories.
Regarding the bags from our wonderful friends at UlStO, the author says that she did not test out any of the bags personally, but she has seen them in person and they are indeed (begrudgingly) "cute." This is the nicest thing said about cork yet! We are extremely proud to have UlStO as part of the HowCork family, and their bags are certainly "cute," and so much more!
In the rest of the paragraph, the author continues that she did buy a pair of shoes made with synthetic vegan leather (though admittedly not made with any cork) from Sydney Brown. She continues to recount that she was disappointed with them, that they did not break in like leather shoes, and she donated them due to blisters she got from wearing them. All of this is well and good, but I'm not sure exactly how any of this relates to cork. What concerns me is that if someone is not reading this article very carefully, one might think that this part about synthetic vegan leather shoes being a disappointment is somehow related to cork. This would only be natural instinct seeing as how this is the final sentence in the two paragraphs dedicated to cork.
All of this undoubtedly would leave the reader thinking that cork is a sub-par material that is not considered attractive by anyone, not even the Portuguese. And it is "touristy" to boot! Then the discussion ends with the final thought that synthetic leather shoes from a randomly selected company that uses cork (although these particular shoes did not make use of cork in any way) were disappointing.
In conclusion, we have two paragraphs about cork that are based purely on personal opinion to make the case that cork "doesn't look as nice as leather," along with other derogatory statements to sway others against cork. No mention of cork's incredible natural properties, for example, that it is naturally water and mold resistant and just as durable as animal leather, or any mention of all of the environmental benefits derived from its use. Just that cork "doesn't look as nice as leather," and let's move on.
Piñatex, the favored child
So then, as I mentioned before, the article continues to discuss Piñatex.
The author is seemingly a slightly bigger fan of Piñatex than cork and refers to it in somewhat of a more positive light. But, she does not think it has a texture that is appealing to many people either. However, she does make a very interesting point about Pinatex, that the material uses a petroleum-derived resin coating as a finish. In contrast, cork does not use any petroleum resins or finishing substances at all, but this was not mentioned.
We are fans of Piñatex here at HowCork, as it is a plant-based product made from pineapple skins being put to use in fashion as a leather alternative. It is interesting to learn that Piñatex is working on replacing this petroleum-derived coating finish used on its products with a new bio-resin. But, I don't think this slight mishap should take away from the good behind Piñatex innovation, as they are working hard to improve the product.
However, cork, in our view, still currently outweighs Piñatex on the "eco-scale of fabrics" due to the fact that there is no petroleum coating used on the material, and due to the fact that it is more durable and water-resistant than pineapple skin (hence why cork does not necessitate the use of any resins on the final product), giving it a longer product lifespan. Also, the harvesting of cork oak directly contributes to the health of the entire Mediterranean forested region. Due to the increased amount of oxygen produced and CO2 taken in by cork oaks after being harvested, cork harvesting is viewed as having a negative carbon footprint (that is it does not add carbon but takes carbon out of the atmosphere). The harvesting of cork is vital to protect the health of an entire region of plants, forests, and endangered animal species. This is because when the cork bark is removed from the tree, the tree enters a regeneration process which accelerates the process of oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption, and this "rebirth" extends the lifespan of the tree.
The final paragraph regarding Piñatex goes as such:
"Fair enough! But maybe this texture thing is actually good for Piñatex because I actually can see it becoming a vegan status symbol, a way for someone to tell you they’re vegan without ever opening their mouth. (That would actually be an amazing turn of events.) Still, it’s not the silver bullet for leather, due to questions about its longevity and the fact that it is finished with a synthetic coating."
So wait, this "texture thing," referring to the unique texture of Piñatex, will become a "vegan status symbol, a way for someone to tell you they're vegan without ever opening their mouth." But hold on a second, does cork not have this same unique textural and visual appeal that immediately lets you know that the person carrying it cares about the environment and animal welfare? First, cork is bashed because its unique look is said to be simply "unappealing," but Piñatex is praised because its uniqueness is now what will give it a "status symbol" among the vegan and conscious communities? Definitely a double standard. Who decided that Piñatex is "on-trend" but cork is not?
Now, we support all-natural plant-based textiles, not just limited to cork. But cork is our favorite by far for a plethora of reasons, including its environmental benefits and its amazing physical characteristics, not to mention that in our view, it is a gorgeous material.
The last sentence is also interesting, where it is concluded that "Still, [Piñatex] is not the silver bullet for leather, due to questions about its longevity and the fact that it is finished with a synthetic coating."
Despite the praise toward Piñatex, the author states that it is not the "silver bullet" for replacing leather with plant-based textiles, due to questions about longevity and the petrochemical coating used on the fabric. But, cork lasts as long if not longer than leather, as a cork bag can last for 10-20 years if not more. Cork also does not use a petrochemical coating on the fabric. So hold on, why is cork not put in the spotlight here instead of Piñatex as the "silver bullet" and "vegan status symbol"? Cork is more durable and is a plant-based fabric with no petrochemical coating.
Final Thoughts and Advice for Readers
But let's not forget how the article ends, with the call to action paragraph headed:
"Should You Choose PU Vegan Leather, Piñatex, or Eco-Friendly Real Leather?"
So again, just want to be super clear, cork is not even an option on this list! The choice, according to this article, is between PU Faux Leather touted as "vegan", Piñatex, made with a petrochemical coating, or "eco-friendly" real leather (the leather industry is generally about as anti-"eco" as it gets, as you can read in our article Cork vs Leather).
The next paragraph continues:
"After doing all this research and considering all sides (and materials), I would ultimately say that this decision is up to you and your own style, needs, and values. If you gag at the thought of wearing animal skin but want a classic look, go for sustainably-made PU vegan leather. If you are a proud vegan and environmentalist, then pick up something made with Piñatex. If you are a capsule wardrobe, #30wears, and/or vintage fashion gal, then get yourself some vegetable-tanned, artisan-made, or secondhand leather accessories."
I suppose this means "considering all sides and materials - except cork." Okay, so let me see if I follow. If you gag at the thought of wearing animal skin but want a "classic look," go for "sustainably made PU leather." I'm not quite clear on what is intended by "sustainably made" referring to polyurethane leather. Synthetic PVC and PU fabrics are made from toxic crude oil, and cannot be considered sustainable in any way (or truly vegan) due to environmental devastation caused by their production.
Or, if you are a "proud vegan and environmentalist," pick up something made of Piñatex, although it has a petrochemical coating. That's perfectly environmentally friendly, but again, not cork.
In reality, cork is the perfect material for a proud vegan and environmentalist for an endless list of reasons. It makes it to the top of the list for sustainability in forestry for its harmless harvesting techniques which leave the Cork Oak unharmed and thriving.
The list finishes with praise for eco-friendly leather that is vegetable-tanned and artisan-made. For comparison, cork is a plant-based textile that is also dyed with natural vegetable-based dyes and is also artisan-made using hand-machining techniques that are very similar to the artisan methods used to make leather bags and wallets. All of this without the need for a dead animal carcass. It is highly questionable if many "eco-friendly" producers of animal leather are cutting all chemicals out of their processes, and very few producers of leather are known to be using traditional or indigenous methods. The vast majority of the leather industry uses practices that are incredibly damaging to the environment and surrounding communities. And let's not forget, all leather comes from an animal killed in the name of food or fashion.
So, why does cork not make the cut? I think it is a real shame that all of the positive aspects of cork as a natural textile go unmentioned, even in the brief part of this article which speaks about cork. In my view, this article's one-sided view of cork is biased, unfair, and wholly inaccurate.
Cork has so much to offer the changing world of sustainable fashion, and I find articles like this discouraging to the movement towards plant-based fashion in general. Cork truly is one of the best natural vegan leather options currently available, and it is a great choice to use instead of animal leather and synthetic faux leather. Let's get beyond the prejudice that "cork is low quality, not durable, and not aesthetically pleasing." Handmade cork products made by artisans using high-quality cork are unique, elegant, and full of beautiful, intricate patterns found in the natural bark itself.
Cork is just as durable as leather and is a natural plant-based fabric, not animal derived or petrochemical-derived. Unfortunately, so many brands are touting faux PVC and PU leather as "vegan" and creating confusion on the subject, while cork falls to a mere afterthought in most articles about "vegan leather." Well, we are here to set the story straight, and not because we sell cork and want to push our products. We sell cork because we believe in cork's potential in fashion, as well as across the board in numerous other industries and applications, as an environmentally-supportive, beautiful replacement for earth-damaging products such as animal leather and synthetic PVC or PU leather.
So, let's bring cork to its rightful place in the conversation. Read our articles and do your own research, and let's remember to not let opinions from popular bloggers pose as the undisputed truth.
What do you think about this article? Let us know below!