The ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole: redefining sustainable footwear by recycling wine corks.
Introducing an incredible, versatile, carbon negative footwear component.
Sustainability is often an afterthought in the world of footwear production, where performance tends to trump all. Softer, lighter, stronger materials; materials with more bounce for each ounce. Major players rely on innovation to gain attention in one of the world’s most hotly contested markets. Sustainability has long been bottom of the list of priorities, if it’s a thought at all. For us, that was never going to cut it.
The ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole is a component that shows what’s possible when sustainability is the key principle driving innovation. This material is unlike anything the world has seen before, and not only because it’s made from post-consumer recycled wine corks. The ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole competes with petroleum-based foams in all key performance metrics, but it measures vastly differently on another crucial scale. While fossil fuel synthetics emit huge quantities of greenhouse gasses, the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole is carbon-negative. It has the net effect of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
What sets the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole apart?
People have been using cork for its functional versatility for thousands of years. Practical applications for this incredible natural material have ranged from fishing floats to spaceship insulation. Using cork in footwear production isn’t new, but cork has always had one limiting characteristic: it is relatively brittle. It does a good job offering rigid support, but ask cork to bend too much, and it’ll snap or crack. Not anymore.
Through years of tireless work our R&D team completely reinvented cork composite materials. Our patented process allows us to take natural cork, grind it down and recombine it into a material that’s lightweight, cushioning, impervious to water, flexible and durable.
But is it still cork? You bet it is. ReCORK Recycled Cork midsoles are at least 75% natural cork. What’s the other 25%? We just spent thousands of hours figuring that out, so we’re not about to just tell you. What we can share is that our team is constantly working on refining new versions of this groundbreaking material, and it won't be long before there's an almost entirely bio-based version available.
This isn’t some token effort with specks of cork floating in a sea of fossil fuel rubber or foam. This is a true revolution in sustainable innovation; a material that not only feels amazing underfoot, it’s also good for the planet.
What makes the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole so sustainable?
All groundbreaking innovations must start somewhere. In this case, the story starts on the trunks of cork oak trees growing in Portugal and other Mediterranean countries. It’s here that wine corks begin their life, growing as the bark of the cork oak. The tree must absorb large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere to grow this thick bark via photosynthesis.
Each tree is harvested once every 9-12 years. The bark is stripped away by hand without harming the tree. In fact, harvest stimulates the cork oak to absorb up to five times more carbon from the atmosphere as it regrows the bark that has been harvested. In the end, natural cork represents an average of 55 times its own weight in carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by the trees that grow it.
This incredible carbon sink means that even after the energy it takes to collect, transport and process the cork, each pair of ReCORK Recycled Cork midsoles has a carbon impact of -4.7kg CO2e. In other words it has the net effect of removing 4.7kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.
How does the Recycled part of the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole work?
From its incredibly sustainable origin, each wine cork begins its journey in a bottle of wine, arriving eventually in a kitchen, bar or restaurant somewhere in North America. Here it’s saved by a person or business that recognizes the inherent value in this beautiful material. They drop it off at one of our amazing Collection Partners, who then ship it to us to give the cork a new life, as part of a ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole.
When they get to us, the corks are ground down. It’s at this point that they’re usually mixed with our post-industrial recycling stream (including cork trimmings and offcuts from the factories where the wine corks are produced in the first place), but the first iteration of the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole will be extra special.
The ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole debuts in a remarkable shoe.
The first ever shoe to include a ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole is the SOLE x UBB Jasper Chukka. This debut iteration will feature exclusively post-consumer recycled wine corks, meaning that every midsole will be made entirely from corks pulled from bottles around North America. It’s a fitting debut for a shoe designed to show what’s possible when you refuse to compromise on sustainability in the search for comfort and performance.
From recycled PET laces, to a sugarcane based EVA insole, and even upcycled bison fur insulation, every material used in the SOLE x UBB Jasper Chukka was chosen for a planet-conscious attribute, be that recycled, carbon-negative, or natural and biodegradable.
Where to next for ReCORK and SOLE?
Our aim has always been to make the biggest positive impact we can, for the sake of both people and the planet. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with the Jasper Chukka, and we’re looking forward to collaborations with major partners to maximize the positive impact of the ReCORK Recycled Cork midsole. This is the beginning of exciting things to come, and we hope to drive a fundamental shift in the way the footwear industry approaches sustainability in the coming years.
If you’d like to get involved in our wine cork recycling program, check out where you can recycle your natural corks, or consider signing your business up to become a Collections Partner. The more people get involved, the bigger positive impact we can have.