Is cork the sustainable sneaker material of 2021?

Shoe Laundry
May 6, 2021
4 minutes

We’re already almost halfway into what will forever be known as “the year after 2020”. The sneaker world has seen some memorable drops and collabs this year, from Air Max Day to a continued Dunk momentum.

But amidst all the releases, one sneaker material seems to be putting in a little more work than the rest. 

What is cork? 

Cork, surprise surprise, comes from cork oak trees. Cork trees typically grow in Southern Europe and parts of Africa, but Portugal and Spain together make up about 80% of the world’s entire cork production. 

Is cork sustainable? 

The best part about cork? You don’t need to cut down any trees to harvest it. In fact, a cork tree needs to grow for about 25 years before cork can be harvested. 

Once it reaches a certain size, you can remove the bark without harming the layer underneath that is vital to the tree’s survival. The tree can then continue to regenerate and cork can be harvested again from that same tree every 9 years or so. 

(Betcha didn’t think we knew so much about cork harvesting, huh?

The point is: it’s a lengthy process. And as we know, anything that takes longer is inherently more sustainable and intentional. Not only does cork production keep trees intact, but cork itself is also recyclable and can be easily moulded into something new. 

But, why is cork a great sneaker material? 

Great question, especially since many sneaker brands have yet to catch on to the incredible benefits of cork. That is, until now. (But more on that later). 

First, cork is naturally stretchy. Its elasticity gives it a sort of springy or spongy quality. At the same time, cork is extremely impermeable. Why else do you think it’s the number one choice to keep wine from leaking out of the bottle? 

Once produced, cork is full of tiny air pockets that make it a powerful (and all-natural) insulator. And to top it all off, cork is a low-density material. If you throw a wine cork into the water, it’ll float. 

All of these benefits make cork a footwear staple. For centuries, cork has been used in shoes to:

Sneakers, however, have lagged a bit behind. Cork has been used here and there through the years, most notably for Lebron James’ “King Cork” collab with Nike in 2012. But in 2021, it seems like the big dogs are finally taking a bigger bite. 

Nike cork sneakers are taking over 2021 

Through Nike’s Move To Zero pledge, the sneaker giant has been exploring inventive materials, streamlined manufacturing processes, and new ways to move the needle toward 100% sustainable sneakers

This year, cork is taking a leading role in many of Nike’s most exciting and upcoming drops. Here are a few of our team’s favourites. 

Nike Air Max 97 

Nike Air Max 95 

Nike Air Max 90 

How do you clean cork sneakers? 

Our all-natural, Canadian-made cleaning kit will do the trick. 

Step 1: Brush off any excess dirt with our biodegradable bamboo and sisal fibre shoe brush

Step 2: Apply 1-2 pumps of our plant-based, coconut-derived cleaning formula onto the sneaker. 

Step 3: Lightly massage the cleaning solution using the brush wherever your shoe needs a little love. 

Step 4: Wipe everything away with our reusable pearl microfibre shoe cloth.

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