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Eco-friendly fashion from Algarve

by EMMA BERTENSHAW [email protected]

Cork trees are a familiar feature of the hills across the Algarve and their bark has been traditionally used for bottles.

The trees thrive in the arid region where temperatures can be punishing to other vegetation.

Novacortiça S.A. is a local company that has produced the natural cork stoppers used for Champagne bottles since the 80s.

Several years ago, company manager Sandra Correia happened upon a whole new use for the material.

During an international trade fair in Spain, the Novacortiça stand was decorated with an unusual umbrella made from cork skins, which attracted the attention of many visitors who had never seen anything like it before.

This reaction prompted Sandra to launch the Pelcor® brand in 2003 and explore how cork could be used in other ways, taking a traditional material and using it in a different innovative way.

The native cork trees not only produce a useful product, they are a sustainable source. The trees have a unique structure that retains carbon dioxide, the main factor in global warming.

Harvesting the cork does not harm the tree but has to be done by hand and requires some skill and expertise.

The trees are harvested every nine years in the late spring or summer when it is easier to extract.

Cork skin is a unique textile: hypoallergenic, waterproof, malleable and durable like leather but vegetable based instead of animal, making it an ethical trade too.

Its structure is like that of a honeycomb and make it an excellent insulator which is also fireproof and resistant to abrasion.

Pelcor representative Ana Catarina Matos says that it can be worked in the same way as leather and because it is waterproof, it can be cleaned using soap and water.

It also wears in the same way as leather but with its own unique texture.

The company has produced a range of fashion and home products ranging from shoes to a dog collar that was presented to President Obama for his Portuguese water dog, Bo.

Currently, their ranges are available online at www.pelcor.pt and sold across the world, including in their two shops, one at São Brás de Alportel where they are based and another in Lisbon.

They also exhibit at major fashion fairs in London, Lisbon and Dubai.

São Brás de Alportel has a long history in cork production, with the first environmental laws protecting the trees going back as far as the 13 century.

Botanists claim that the Portuguese cork forests support a bio-diversity that is comparable to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Pelcor say they continue to explore its uses by developing new ranges, working with new technology and creating timeless products for the international market to enjoy.

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