Year after year, you’ll find figures that state the horror faced by animals because of the leather industry. A 2019 PETA report states that most leather supplied globally comes from India and China. While the fashion industry is a major contributor, the consumer is equally responsible for considering leather as a luxe material despite the trail of cruelty it leaves behind. Many brands are going fur free to become socially responsible, but only a few that have stopped using
exotic skin for products. Though many companies look for alternative material such as PVC or PU, these are as hazardous for the environment as leather.
What’s the solution? Accessories made of cork; a material once used for wine and bottle stoppers. We look at three brands that use this material for their products.
MAKING CORK UBER-COOL
It was during his quest to buy a gift for his wife, that 34-year-old Saurabh Kadyan, a post-graduate in financial economics, stumbled upon the creations by an international fashion label who made bags using cork. “I believe in being mindful of how and what we consume especially in the name of fashion.” When he saw these bags, his intrigue grew stronger. He says, “It seemed like an innovative idea and someone had done it, and was selling it for a crazy price tag.”
Kadyan understood the untapped space when it comes to innovative sustainable alternatives to traditional options in accessories. The self-taught product designer launched Corkiza in 2016, with an aim to have a collection of handbags that were high on quality and craftsmanship. He says, “I modified and applied traditional leather goods making process to the material. After multiple failed attempts, I understood cork’s nature and eventually came up with the first collection.”
Sourcing materials from Portugal and Spain, Kadyan says, “The trees are in no way damaged while extracting cork the bark is naturally renewable and grows back after nine years preserving the forest in its entirety, and enabling perpetual harvesting with no damage to the ecosystem.” He mentions that cork is a green alternative to animal leather, “It is waterproof, fire-resistant and unique in appearance. It is biodegradable, doesn’t absorb dust or moisture and is low-maintenance.”
A CRUELTY-FREE OPTION
An accessory design graduate from NIFT, Shivani Patel, who initially started working with leather, would constantly look for alternatives to it. She says people want non cruel options, “Many customers would come to me asking can you make this non leather?” On visiting a material fair in 2014, she saw a stall selling products with cork.
After completing her first collection in January 2014, she started a crowdfunding campaign and later founded Arture in November 2015. By sourcing cork from the Mediterranean belt of Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Patel tells us about the process, “Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak trees. The bark is sustainably harvested by skillful farmers with no machinery involved, and then processed into thin sheets. Those get mounted on fabric backing, giving us the cork fabric.” Talking about its properties, Patel concludes, “It is lightweight, waterproof and anti-fungal.”
PROMOTING NATURAL FASHION
A thought that consumed 39-year-old Supriya Satam, a former engineer and MBA by profession, was why no one created earth-friendly fashion accessories. She says, “I wanted to create accessories that reflected the accents of nature but emphasised on design and style. The beauty and the symbolism of cork resonated with the idea I was searching for.”
While she tried experimenting with it initially, she realised she couldn’t do much with it. Satam says, “Cork is an exclusive and unique material and needs sensitivity with design and manufacturing to bring out its true value. So, I shifted my focus to working with experts in Europe who established themselves in manufacturing products with cork.” She launched her brand FOReT so as to “propagate the concept of natural fashion without compromising on design and style.” Using genuine cork material sourced from Southern Europe, where cork oak forests are present in abundance, she says, “I liked the simplicity and yet the sophistication of this fabric. It is an absolutely smooth material, and so unique.” Apart from its unique properties, Satam concludes, “You can easily clean it with using water and mild soap. Unlike PU leather, which tends to peel when unused for a long time, cork ages gracefully without any deterioration.”