Cork handbags: durable?
October 12, 2019 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering purchasing a cork handbag. Are cork "leather" bags durable and long lasting for daily use?

I've never had a chance to touch the "fabric" so I don't quite understand how flimsy or strong it is, but I like the vegan & sustainable aspects. The reviews online all seem like robots, so I figured I would ask some humans. (There are multiple stores online and folks on Etsy, so also kind of soliciting recommendations for specific designers/stores of quality, or markers of quality to examine; I'm in Los Angeles, CA, USA and prefer to support local as possible.)
posted by holyrood to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have experience with cork and cork leather in Hong Kong on interior products. They don't work very well in this environment since it is so high humidity that it seems to cause a number of issues with the cork. I suspect this will have a lot to do with how it is finished, but I'd watch out for that...
posted by frumiousb at 11:05 PM on October 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I bought a small, simple cork purse at a non-touristy market in Portugal several years ago. I used it regularly for a while but I'm not really a daily purse sorta person so now I mostly only use it if I don't have pockets. I really like it but I noticed that over time it picked up a slightly bluish tone that I assumed was due to rubbing against my jeans when I walked. As to wear, the surfaces are fine (other than the color wear) but I do see a little bit of wear at stress points (corner seams) and this is in a small, essentially flat bag that basically holds wallet, phone, glasses, and maybe a couple other small items. I'm not sure how well it would do for daily use in larger bag with more weight in it. Maybe you could message one or more of the etsy designers to ask them about durability.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:48 AM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a cork purse made by a local crafter, a medium sized shoulder bag with zipper at top and pocket on the front. It's mostly dyed (painted?) black with some natural accents, and I've had no problems with color transferring onto clothes. I've carried it daily for almost six months and it still looks new. So impressed that I'm actually planning to buy several more from her as Christmas gifts this year. So I'd say yes, very durable and long lasting. I couldn't be happier with mine.
posted by AliceBlue at 8:20 AM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Good cork fabric has a kind of rubber-like texture (or maybe a very soft calfskin), kind of like a wine cork but in sheet form. In many cases cork fabric (or cork leather) is one-sided; the backing is a coarse canvas. There are a variety of waterproofing and stain resistance products available for cork. Read the labels and customer reviews carefully because some of them harden the cork.
posted by ardgedee at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I last looked into cork fabric a couple years ago, there were only a couple manufacturers (since almost all the world's cork comes from Portugal), and they supplied everybody from bespoke artisans to factories selling in volume through Taobao.

The material can be durable but my impression is that a lot of the physical integrity is due to the fabric backing rather than the cork. The cheaper materials have a lot of gaps in the cork sheet that expose the fabric underneath. In the sample I just checked the gaps in the cork expose the underlying glued surface, which is dyed to match the cork. In my sample there are many gaps but they're quite small so unless you're looking closely it looks fine. In other samples I've seen there are large gaps, and sometimes the material designer exploits it by using a backing of a contrasting color.

It's not leather, it's a material that can be used in some applications where leather is common. So it's an interesting still-new material that should be evaluated on its own merits. I wouldn't mind having a cork-leather satchel of my own some day, I'm just not in the market for another bag right now.
posted by ardgedee at 11:12 AM on October 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

To clarify: my problem was that color seemed to transfer onto the cork, not from the cork.

Interesting info, ardgedee. Thanks.

@AliceBlue, where did you get your bag? I would definitely consider another one.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:29 PM on October 13, 2019

I own this bag, and also had issues with it staining (or getting dirty in a way I couldn't get out.) I didn't use any protective products, wish I had. I also had a decent amount of cracking around the handle, so it's pretty much retired at this point (after about one year of use.)
posted by mosst at 5:55 AM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks, all. I appreciate your comments-- gave me many things to examine and consider when thinking about this purchase! I think I need to look for a local designer, examine the item(s) in person, and ask some questions before a purchase, or go with a well-reputed designer.
posted by holyrood at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2019

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