What is cork fabric? And other FAQs

  • Date: May 14, 2022

(Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr, under CC license)

Most people are accustomed to seeing corks as wine bottle stoppers, but you may have noticed an increasing number of retailers selling items made of cork. Anything from handbags to yoga mats can be fashioned from cork.

Cork fabric is a wonderful material – soft and luxurious yet durable and long-lasting. Vegan and ecofriendly, it even does its bit in the fight against climate change. What more could you ask for in a fabric?!  

Here we will address some of the most commonly asked questions about this amazingly versatile fabric.

What is cork fabric?

Cork fabric, also known as cork leather, is made from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber) tree. The bark is stripped every nine (or so) years. These trees exist mainly in Europe and northwestern Africa – Portugal has the largest cork oak tree population and is the biggest producer of cork products.

Cork fabric is comprised of a thin layer of cork laminated to a backing. The backing can be made from a variety of materials, this is largely dependent on the final product produced. Commonly you will find cotton/polyester blends or a plastic material called Polyurethane (PU).

Is cork leather vegan?

Yes! Cork leather is 100% vegan. It is a great alternative to animal leather due to it’s look and feel.

Other vegan leathers can be quite harmful for the environment. Most are made from plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Amongst other environmental impacts, PVC does not biodegrade – it simply gets smaller and smaller. These little bits of plastic can be tempting for foraging animals, getting stuck in their gut in the process. So, you can wear your cork fabric shoes with a clear conscience. An animal was not used to make them, and no living animals were harmed either!

Is cork fabric eco-friendly?

Cork fabric is extremely ecofriendly. It scores highly in terms of sustainability. A cork oak tree does not need to be cut down – layers of bark are removed skillfully by hand and over the next few years the bark grows back. These trees can live hundreds of years.

The cork oak tree absorbs carbon dioxide – one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. Cork even absorbs up to 5 times more when it has been harvested! Rather than harming the environment, it is contributing to the fight against climate change.

Although cork is biodegradable, cork fabric may not totally break down. It depends on what material the backing is made of. It is often a cotton/polyester blend which will not fully break down due to its polyester element.

Cork oak forests are also the richest areas in the world for biodiversity, providing a home for many animal and plant species – some of which are endangered. One square kilometer in these areas contain a massive 135 different plant species. Cork oak trees are also pryophytes – they are specially adapted to be able to cope with fire and heat due to their thick layer of bark. Not only does this protect themselves, it also creates a more fire-safe environment for other species to live in.    

What does cork fabric feel like?

Cork fabric has a soft texture. It is often compared to quality animal leather. Its smoothness also makes it great for lots of products -It feels great on the skin. However, don’t be fooled by its soft and smooth texture – it is also extremely durable. Your handbag won’t be a one season wonder.

Is cork fabric washable?

Technically, you can put your cork item into the washing machine after a spillage – it is durable after all. However, we recommend simply wetting a cloth and wiping the area in question. If the spillage/stain is a bit more extreme and covers a larger area, you can submerge it fully in soapy water.

Can cork fabric be dyed/colored?

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Although a lot of cork fabric products will be natural, they can also be dyed different colors or be patterned. Coloring techniques will vary between manufacturers; however, many opt for vegetable dye as a preferred technique.

Is cork fabric waterproof?

Despite having a spongy feel, cork fabric is waterproof. It makes sense really. If it was not waterproof it would not make a very effective wine bottle stopper! Cork cells contain a fatty substance called suberin that helps it resist water absorption, making it ideal from everything from shoes to mobile phone covers.  

Is cork fabric hygienic?

Cork is a natural antimicrobial material due to the phenolic compounds it contains. This should come as no surprise – there would be a lot more green, moldy cork-tiled bathroom floors if microbes could grow freely…

 It’s antifungal and antibacterial properties make cork fabric ideal for regularly worn (but not regularly washed) handbags and shoes too. Cork is now even being used to make yoga mats. Its spongy, soft feel combined with these antimicrobial properties make cork a great option.