One of the special characteristics of the evergreen cork oak, which is mostly native to the Mediterranean area, is its unique bark which regenerates itself. There’s no other material which comes close to the flame-retardant, water-repellent and insulating cork – and that’s a good thing too.

Manual work: from the bark to the raw material

Anyone who believes that cork oak forests grow but that the trees are damaged while harvested or even felled is absolutely wrong. The bark of a live cork oak can be removed without the tree suffering any damage –  another unique characteristic of this impressive tree species which can grow older than 200 years. A cork oak is harvested for the first time after approximately 25 years. This process is repeated every nine years. In the meantime, the bark regenerates itself – an absolutely unique ability. The gentle harvesting is still carried out in the traditional manner by hand to protect the tree.

Cork: an unrivaled original

In today’s throwaway society, cork is an exceptional phenomenon. 100% of this diverse natural material is processed, nothing goes to waste. Approximately 70% of cork harvested worldwide is used to produce natural cork stoppers. It is furthermore used for furniture, decorative items and clothing. Cork is even used in the aerospace industry. Any waste material which is, for example, produced during the punching of the cork stoppers are, amongst other areas, used for the production of floor coverings, insulation, musical instruments and the legendary BIRKENSTOCK footbeds. What’s more, cork is 100% recyclable – provided it is disposed of correctly. Natural cork stoppers cannot be produced from recycled material, but, other than that, cork can be reprocessed and start its second lifecycle.

The reason that we cannot produce a comparable material synthetically is not only due to the fact that all ecological benefits of the cork oak forests would be lost. What is far more crucial is that cork, as a universal material, has several impressive characteristics which cannot be fully imitated by a synthetic material. The full recyclability is only one item (although the most important for our environment) of a very long list: cork is highly elastic, very light-weight, has excellent shock-absorbing properties and insulates reliably against heat, cold and damp. Cork is furthermore flame-retardant and can last for many years without being damaged by mold or insects.

Cork oak extract: natural beauty

Cork is nowadays even used in the cosmetics industry. An extract gained from the outer layer of the cork oak’s bark is an essential component of a multi-active complex which was specifically developed for BIRKENSTOCK NATURAL SKIN CARE. This complex is contained in all products in varying concentrations. It is confirmed that it increases the skin’s moisture, strengthens the skin’s protective barrier and reduces wrinkles. It furthermore stimulates cell regeneration and thereby transfers the cork oak’s unique ability to constantly renew its “skin”.

You can learn more about cork oaks in part 1 and part 2 of our series.


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