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La Dernière Mode – Cork Shoes!

February 12, 2014

Check out these beauties below…

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So, what do you think? Would you rock them? Allow me to introduce you to a revolution in urban fashion. To the left is Tour, an exquisite sneaker line for men and on the right is Grace, flat-soled, multi-function footwear for women. Classy, don’t you think?

Well, believe it or not, the shoes above are not made with the usual materials we know. They are 100% recycled wine bottle corks! 

If you are a wine lover like me, you’ll understand how important cork is as a wine bottle stopper. Unlike the plastic types, cork stoppers draw in the flavour so much, you actually want to sniff it before tasting the wine. So, where exactly does good old wine cork come from?

The Cork Oak (Quercus suber) is a tree native to Southwest Europe, predominantly Portugal. It is also found in Spain and parts of Northwest Africa, including Algeria and Morocco.

A  Cork Oak plantation.

A Cork Oak plantation.

The bark of the tree is harvested every nine years and it is this bark that is processed into cork. The harvesting is skillfully done with special axes, so the living part of the stem is not harmed. Harvesting the cork is actually a good thing and is necessary for the tree to regenerate and live longer. I would liken it to shearing sheep or having a good haircut!

Cork harvesting and processing. Notice how the bark is ‘peeled’ off the stem in the left?image005

Cork harvesting and processing. Notice how the bark is ‘peeled’ off the stem in the left?

After harvesting and processing, a single tree can yield up to 4,000 corks. With properties such as resilience, thermal capacity and insulation, cork is also finding innovative value in industries such as automotive (engine parts), construction (floors and beams), interior decor (cork boards, carpets) and most recently, fashion! Ah, la charmè.

In 2009, Canadian manufacturer of custom footwear, SOLE, joined forces with ReCORK, a U.S. based natural cork-recycling company to take cork reuse to another level entirely. Today, this partnership yields the beautiful cork shoes you saw above.

Driven by the idea that cork could be more useful than it already is, the two companies set out to make cork shoes. ReCORK collects the cork for recycling, while SOLE designs the footwear.  

Since the project began, over 45 million corks have been collected and more than 8,000 trees have been planted in a drive to raise awareness for carbon-negativity.

Now, this is the twist. According to global financial analysis company Morgan Stanley, the world might be up for a shortage of wine. Even though there has been serious controversy surrounding the October 22, 2013 report, one cannot help but shudder at the rising competition substitutes soda, beer and other beverages are presenting. With global consumption of three billion cases per year, demand is still exceeding supply by at least 300 million units.

What does this mean for our dear cork? It’s simple. If less wine is available, less cork is going to be harvested and processed. Bottle stoppers now being made from non-biodegradable, petroleum-based alternatives like polyethylene (plastic) makes the issue much worse. If you have heard cork is fading out, it’s not because it is being overused. It is actually because we are not using it. The trees seal up carbon in this cork and if it cannot be harvested, it becomes a bad scenario. 

This is why companies like ReCORK are doing their best to ensure our environment stays carbon negative by creating new recycling innovations. Cork products are durable, strong and just as good as the leather and polymer materials.

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I must confess my love for Tour, the sneakers. I can already see them matching my favourite denim pants!

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