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Fabric Faceoff: Cork vs. Recycled Wool

February 18, 2019
Data & transparency

Time for Round 3 of our #fabricFaceoff, where 8 of the top green fabrics battle head to head for the best green fabric. Tencel and Bamboo are already in the semi finals after beating linen and rPET. Which others will join them?

We’re now left with cork, recycled wool, organic cotton and hemp to battle it out to the next round. These fabrics are up against each other on Green Story’s 5 criteria, a mix of eco-friendly qualities, manufacturer and customer needs, and specific fabric superiority.

Make sure to check the bottom of this blog for specifics on our criteria.


Introducing the competitors for round 3: cork and recycled wool

Fabric Faceoff Round 3 - cork vs. recycled wool

Cork: Best known as the lids to our favourite wines, cork’s also been getting (well-deserved) attention in the fashion world. Designers are replacing leather with this natural and sustainable alternative. Being feather light but extremely durable makes cork a must-have for apparel, accessories and shoes. This material is made from the bark of Cork oak trees, boiled, and either made into tissue-thin strips for fabric or into a spongy shock-absorbent material.

Recycled Wool: The sustainable second life of wool. This fabric by-passes the most environmentally-harming stages of wool. Without the eco-impacts from sheep, and chemicals and water needed for dyeing, recycled wool is a great candidate for our green list —and our winter list. Not to mention recycled wool keeps our wool sweaters out of landfills and avoids new fiber creation.

Here’s how we scored them.


1. CO2 Emissions:

These two are some of the best in the biz. Cork is extremely lightweight which means less CO2 from transport. Also, it keeps away from emissions with its simple production process. But let’s take a quick look at the Cork Oak tree. In producing the fabric, only the outside bark of the tree is cut, without cutting down the tree. That means wildlife gets to stay and trees continue absorbing CO2. Ready for more? Cork Oak trees with their bark cut absorb 2-3 times more CO2 emissions than those that haven’t been cut. Now that’s a win-win situation.

Recycled wool completely bypasses the biggest emission stage; sheep. These furry friends produce not only CO2, but also methane which is worse for the environment as it traps 28x more heat than CO2. As well, recycled wool skips the scouring process which cleans the wool and is heavily emission-prone.

Our score: Cork – 5 | Recycled wool – 5
Winner: Tie


2. Water Consumption:

Part of its simple production, cork needs to be boiled to take out impurities and make it flexible for use. This uses quite some water. When it comes to dying, it’s a bit of a gamble. Most cork is left as is, but some brands may choose to have it dyed. This process requires a bit of water, but at least the dyes are all natural.

Essentially. recycled wool production is breaking down clothes to fiber and respinning them back into yarn. That means all water for sheep and wool scouring can be saved. To make it even better, recycled wool (most often) doesn’t need to be dyed —just well sorted for colour creation. That means not only water is saved, but also many harmful chemicals.

Our score: Cork – 4 | Recycled wool – 5
Winner: Recycled wool


3. Cost:

Cork’s manual processes and production location does make it more expensive than other fabrics. On the other hand, before recycled wool was on the eco-friendly radar, multinationals bought the material because it was cheaper than new wool.

Our score: Cork – 3 | Recycled wool – 4
Winner: Recycled wool


4. Availability:

Even if everyone started recycling their wool sweaters, recycling hubs aren’t yet plentiful. There are certain hubs like Prato, Italy and Panipat in India, but recycling facilities are yet to be mainstream. Cork also scores low in this category as it’s trees only grow around the Mediterranean Sea. This might add a holiday flair, so it also means no possible local production.

Our score: Cork – 2 | Recycled wool – 3
Winner: Recycled wool


5. Other:

Cork is water-resistant, lightweight and extremely durable, often being compared to leather. Apart from having minimal eco-impacts, it also has virtually no waste. Any extras simply renter the production again. When it’s dyed, it’d done only with natural solutions, avoiding any toxic chemicals. Against recycled wool, cork has the benefit that its source is sustainable, traceable, and low-impact.

Wool has the natural ability to breathe and can absorb up to 35% of its own weight in moisture due to its hydrophilic core. It also gets credit for taking (wool) waste out of landfill. Recycled wool is a bit less durable than new wool but can be mixed with other fibers to strengthen it. It does have one leading quality over cork; versatility. Cork is great for many things, but not all things. While wool can be used for most apparel needs, cork’s versatility is limited in our clothing staples (for now).

Our score: Cork –  5| Recycled wool – 5
Winner: Tie


3rd round winner:

Recycled wool Image courtesy Key Gardens

Recycled wool

Can I tell you a secret? The Green Story team was rooting for cork. From an eco perspective, it’s a complete jackpot with its simple and minimal-impact production. But from a versatile fabric perspective, it just can’t beat recycled wool. Both fabrics get top scores on CO2 emissions and Other, proving just how eco-friendly they are. But recycled wool got those extra points needed to beat cork and advance to the semi finals!


Final score: Cork – 19 | Recycled wool – 22

What do you think of our decision? Do you think cork should have made it to the next round?

We let our wonderful followers on Instagram also take a vote. It was not even close by their estimate, cork won by a landslide! Let us know your thoughts on Instagram and keep your eyes open for our next competitors!

Organic cotton is taking on hemp for the last spot in the semi finals. Check in with us on Thursday as we release the much-anticipated last quarterfinals round!


The rules of the competition

We broke it down into 5 categories, a mix of environmental issues, consumer and manufacturer needs and unique fabric qualities. Each category is scored on a 5 point scale with 5 being best.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Every fabric gives off CO2 from its production, but the best green materials strive to bring this to a minimum —some even to be CO2 negative (due to carbon sequestration).
  2. Water consumption: Fabrics can use up to 3,000 liters per 1 kg of material (!), so the less water needed, the higher green materials will score.
  3. Cost: Being green and buying green is the main goal. But we must also be realistic. You can’t spend all your budget on the material, and your customers will not spend their life savings on a t-shirt. So finding the right balance between being sustainable and affordable will make sure green materials are here to stay.
  4. Availability: Green materials are wonderful, but they must also be accessible. The possibility of local production, easy access to facilities offering these materials (and no long waiting lists), and brands offering these materials needs to be addressed.
  5. Other: Each material is unique and has different sustainable qualities. This category allows each material to bring its top additional assets to the table, to make for a fairer comparison.