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Cork trees & products in Portugal

The cork oak forests grow around Western Mediterranean Basin, where there are ideal conditions to cork trees growing. It occupies 23% of the Portuguese forest area, representing one-third of the total world cork oak forests. The worldwide leader of manufactured cork products is Portugal, with half of the world’s production. 

Where do cork trees grow? It is possible to find cork forests in most parts of the country, especially in Algarve and the Alentejo plains. The cork trees grow, occupying tens of hectares and facilitating the conservation of the ecosystem.

The cork oak was unanimously declared as a National tree by the Portuguese Parliament. Nevertheless, the importance of cork in Portugal was officially recognized with the introduction of the first known agricultural laws protecting cork oak forests in 1209.

The first instance, cork usage goes way back to 3000 BC. Egypt's and Persians were already using cork in tackling fishes while fishing. However, cork products in Portugal started being used around 1700 as cork stoppers, and this usage grew with the expansion of the port wine trade some 70 years later.  In later years, the decorative potential of cork was explored by several artists.

Cork is an excellent 100% natural material harvested from the bark of cork trees. It is collected every nine years and transformed; the process is free of artificial chemicals and adapted for several different uses. Cork harvesting benefits the tree as it helps it to rejuvenate. The cork tree's lifetime extends to more than 200 years. During this time, the cork trees are stripped around 17 times. 

Cork absorbs a significant percentage of CO2 during the years. In fact, harvested cork trees absorb 3-5 times more CO2 than non harvested cork trees. The Portuguese forest study centre tried to work out exactly how much CO2 cork trees remove from the atmosphere. Their conclusion was astonishing: 1 ton of cork production removes 73 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The ritual of cork harvesting is a fascinating process. Specialists should only carry that out as it takes a lot of experience and manual skill to harvest the cork without harming the cork tree. The cork harvesting usually happens between May and September, and no machines whatsoever are involved in the process. The cork strippers work in pairs with handheld axes, one of them on the ground and the other in the cork tree. They cut the top and bottom of the tree bark peeling the cork. Cork  extraction is a no waste procedure. 

The processing generates no water or air pollution. Cork is simply boiled in water and then flattened and moulded into cork fabric sheets to make it suitable for turning into “cork leather” products. The cork is then shaved off the cork rolled fabric in sheets as thin as paper and sewn onto a cotton backing. Sometimes, natural green, brown, and blue plant-based dyes are used to make coloured cork leather.

Cork fabric is available in a unique assortment of natural textures, patterns, and designs, making each Cork handbag one of a kind, each with its personality.

Check out our collection of handmade cork products in Portugal