A person watching the sun set over the ocean wearing a Rustek Cork Hat

Natural Material Spotlight: A Deep Dive into Cork—Is it Sustainable?

The need for sustainable innovation in the fashion industry is bringing a new wave of fabrics and materials for clothing and accessories. In the past, we’ve rushed into innovation without properly measuring the potential impact certain products have. And we don’t want to repeat history… 

There are a lot of “sustainable” materials emerging. And we need to take a step back and consider if they’re truly sustainable and what kind of impact they’ll have long-term. 

At Rustek, we’re all about sustainable innovation. But before jumping into the next eco-fad, we want to ask questions and truly understand the impact of the materials and natural fabrics we’re using. 

In this blog, we’re doing a deep dive into cork—an incredible natural material that’s growing in popularity. We’ll cover basics like what is cork and how it’s created to its environmental impact and its different uses. Let’s dive in! 

What is Cork? 

A picture of the bark of a Cork Tree
Cork is the thick bark that surrounds the Cork Oak Tree—a unique, evergreen tree native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. Portugal is the main exporter of cork worldwide and is home to the largest Cork Oak Tree forests. 

In recent years, cork’s popularity skyrocketed because of its amazing properties and wide variety of uses. Many products are now replacing leather, plastic, and other materials with cork. 

Do Trees Die When Cork is Harvested? 

Cork is made of trees. Yes. But no trees are harmed in the making! One of the best eco-perks of cork is that it’s harvested. This means the tree doesn’t have to be cut down or harmed to source cork. Quite the opposite actually, Cork Oak Trees thrive when their cork is harvested. It even helps the tree live longer. 

Cork is essentially tree bark. And trees grow bark like humans grow hair. This means we can harvest cork, allow the tree time to grow, and repeat. The process is actually good for the trees, and extends their life—allowing them to thrive for over 200+ years! 

That also makes cork a 100% natural, biodegradable, and compostable resource. 

What Can We Do With Cork? 

So. Many. Things. 

One of the coolest things about cork is how versatile it is. It has literally hundreds of uses—the most common ones being wine corks and bulletin boards (remember those!?). But as we realize all the untapped potential of cork, its uses are expanding. 

Although its popularity hasn’t quite reached the US yet, Europe is already maximizing the use of cork. And we’re in the fast lane to catch up. Some of the unexpected yet outstanding uses of cork are: 

  • Flooring
  • Construction materials 
  • Fishing rod handles 
  • Shoes and insoles 
  • Handbags, clothes, and fashion accessories 

Some of these have been used for years—like fishing rod handles. Others are more innovative, like cork fabric used for clothing. Whatever the use, it’s exciting to tap into the ever-expanding uses of cork since it's a natural, biodegradable material. 

Cork’s Best Qualities… What Makes Cork So Cool? 

There are many reasons why we’re embracing cork and using it in our products. Besides the obvious environmental benefits, cork has a ton of qualities that make it a staple natural material. Not only does it create awesome-looking accessories, but it’s also long-lasting and honestly just cool to look at. 

These are some of the best benefits + qualities of cork:
Three Rustek's Cork Hats sitting on a tree root with a lake and mountains as background

  • Outstanding Properties

There’s a reason why cork is believed to be one of nature’s most versatile materials. And that’s because of its one-of-a-kind properties. As a raw material, cork has an extensive list of qualities that make for a lasting, high-quality material. 

Cork is hypoallergenic, super flexible, antimicrobial, stain-resistant, and scratch-proof. It’s also naturally moisture-wicking, fire retardant, and super lightweight. This makes it an exceptional material to replace plastic in many products. 

  • Waterproof

Cork has its own inner technology that makes it waterproof—it’s a closed-cell, nonporous material. This means that cork’s cells don’t allow moisture to permeate. Water can get trapped in between cork 'granules' but unlike wood, where the material actually soaks up and 'wicks' the water through the veins of the wood, the cork cells themselves are completely impermeable to water.

  • Self-Adhesive 

This is an interesting quality of cork and it deserves attention. Why? Well, when cork is heated, it becomes sticky and can stick to itself. This helps in reducing the use of adhesives and other synthetic materials when working with cork—making it even more eco-friendly and versatile. 

  • Shock Absorbent

Cork’s unique cell system makes it a great shock absorber—ideal for cushioning and high-impact applications like shoes, handles, and flooring. Cork i’s so effective at absorbing impact and shock that it’s being tested for use in helmets. 

  • Heat Insulation

Cork also offers great thermal insulation. The tiny air bubbles embedded in the structure of cork block the transfer of heat, making it a great natural substitute for plastic in high-heat and insulation applications.

So… What Makes Cork Sustainable? 

Again… So. Many. Things. 

That’s the true beauty of cork. It’s a natural masterpiece and has many environmental benefits. These are a few of the reasons cork makes for a great eco-conscious material: 

  • Minimal Impact to Create/Process

Harvesting and processing cork has a minimal impact on the environment. No trees need to die. No toxic chemicals are used in the process. Water doesn’t get polluted with dyes, so it can be reused. And cork makes for a long-lasting, naturally carbon-negative material. 

  • Renewable 

As we said before, no trees are harmed in the making of cork. Quite the opposite! The regular harvesting of the bark is actually good for the trees, allowing them to regrow more bark (aka cork), and can add 25-50 years to the tree’s life, making it a regenerative, renewable resource. 

  • Plant-based, Biodegradable, Compostable

Because of cork’s amazing properties, it doesn't need fillers, chemicals, or adhesives. This means that cork is 100% plant-based, biodegradable, and compostable. A true gift from nature. 

  • Has the Potential to Replace Some Plastics

For a sustainable future to be a reality, we need to replace the excessive use of plastic with more natural materials. And cork has many features that can make this change a reality. It’s already happening. Cork is already replacing plastic in shoes, fashion accessories (like our hats and beanies), and furniture. 

The environmental benefits of cork are plenty—and you still get an awesome-looking product! Cork is sustainable, vegan, biodegradable, and tree-friendly. 

How We’re Using Cork at Rustek! 

We’re proud to tap into all of cork’s amazing properties to eliminate plastic from outdoor gear, and to make our products as natural and sustainable as possible. You’ll find cork in our 100% biodegradable beanies and baseball caps. Plus, you’ll cork in our patent-pending 100% natural baseball cap brim construction, the key component in the most sustainable hats in the world. 

Shop Cork Hats & Snapbacks→ 

Back to blog