Put a little cork in your port
Replacing the previous store, which was located in Brisbane’s Hawthorne for just over two years, the new 40sqm premises had a soft opening on May 29, following five days of fitting out. Known as Wilston Village, the shopping precinct is located on Wilston’s main street and is around 5km from Brisbane’s CBD.
Polished concrete floors and wooden platforms complement the cork products’ natural colour, while a major store feature is the architectural fashion for angles, Cork Leather’s MD Paulo Almeida told to Inside Retail PREMIUM.
As the ceiling is on an angle, only one wall is square, resulting in the store being highlighted by many angles, which gives it a sense of quirkiness. Adding to this aspect is an unusual shaped window at the back of the store, for which Almeida’s son, Jason, created a unique wrought iron feature with swirls that softens the impact of the room’s sharp lines.
White walls and shelving with occasional black props showcase a variety of cork items that include the latest European fashion designs in bags, shoes, boots and jewellery as well as smartphone covers, belts and an umbrella.
A number of cafes, real estate agents and hairdressers, travel agencies nearby draw good passing trade for the new store. The upmarket area attracts a lot of professionals and customers derive from an affluent demographic of mainly women 35 plus. Recently, however there’s been increasing interest from younger customers, especially in the store’s jewellery (earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets) and bag items.
There is also a section dedicated to male customers – for whom there has been expanding product lines in cork ties, IT accessories, bags, wallets, shoes and hats. Only small quantities of items are ordered so customers benefit from the exclusivity of limited editions. The ‘green’ aspect is one of the key drawcards for customers.
“People are really enthusiastic about the whole process and how environmentally friendly and sustainable it is,” Almeida said.
Cork Leather stocks a number of products that are vegan, including bags, wallets, hats, jewellery and aprons, some of which are approved by the Vegan Society of Queensland.
Cork grows on one particular Cork Oak tree and is harvested for the first time between 25 and 40 years. Once harvested, it takes nine years for the bark to grow back before the harvest cycle starts again.
“It’s all done by hand, therefore there’s minimum environmental impact. It is also very sustainable, as all Cork Oak trees in Portugal are protected by law,” Almeida said. The de-barking also extends the life of the trees and not doing so would result in the tree atrophying. Around 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s cork comes from Portugal.
“When the wine industry started to use screw tops, this alternative cork industry really took off,” Almeida observed. “The Portuguese fashion industry produced beautiful bags and shoes made with cork leather and went to Paris and Milan where they loved the products, at the time saying, ‘Cork is the new leather’.”
The latest cork products for the Australian market are reviewed on regular visits to Portugal when Almeida and his wife and business partner, Manuela, visit their manufacturers to discuss upcoming trends and choose new collections.
The lifespan of the cork trees in Portugal average between 200 and 300 years, but a few are well over 800 years old.
“The cork in our bags could come from a tree as young as 60-years-old, or as old as 800 plus years,” he said.
The signature oak acorn is a symbol employed on the business’ transactional website that has been active for around three years.
More stores in Australia, within Sydney and Melbourne, are under consideration and, further into the future, within Asia. “We first need to establish our market within Australia and make sure all our systems are up and running,” Almeida said.