Good news, hard-core vegans: if you want the chic look and feel of leather accessories (without any blood on your hands), plastic’s not your only Happy Cow option anymore. Vancouver designer Martha Vainer has just “uncorked” a new line of stylish cruelty-free handbags. It’s called Cork by Design, and as the name suggests, she works exclusively with the material we associate with wine stoppers. Of course, she’s not the first person in the fashion industry to work with this renewable and biodegradable material.
Cobblers have been rocking cork ever since wedge heels became one of summer’s must-have shoes, but let’s face it: that’s less about being eco-friendly and more about putting a spring in our step on the cheap. Vainer, on the other hand, is doing her best to rebrand cork as a superstylish and sustainable alternative to leather.
“There was a misconception a couple of years back that there was no more cork available and that’s why the wine industry was switching to plastic,” explains Vainer during a sit-down interview with the Straight at an East Van café. “But that’s not really true—plastic’s just cheaper.”
Interestingly, Vainer (a dentist by trade) wasn’t even in the market for an eco-friendly fabric. In fact, this newfound enthusiasm for cork began with a simple purchase during a vacation in one of the world’s biggest exporters of cork.
“I was travelling in Portugal and I saw these cork bags,” she recalls. “So I bought one myself and when I brought it back, everyone said, 'Oh my god, I love your bag', and that started the whole idea.”
After that, Vainer set about launching her new line. In terms of manufacturing, Vainer keeps it pretty green: instead of just taking the material from the people who harvest it and shipping it to a faraway factory, she keeps all production in Portugal to minimize her label’s footprint.
Her surprisingly soft, handmade bags are now sold online as well as at several boutiques in the Lower Mainland, including Bodacious (109–1535 Johnston Street, Granville Island), Red Horses Gallery (2460 Marine Drive, West Vancouver), Colette’s Frocks (109 West 1st Street, North Vancouver), and Bellamy Leclerc’s Fine Fibres Clothing and Footwear (4–9124 Glover Road, Langley). The centrepiece in her core collection is an adorable clutch with an optional strap ($65)—a great little number that will go with anything. I look forward to seeing these offered in a variety of eye-popping spring-fresh colours next season. Another highlight is her boho-cool half-moon handbag in natural ($112)—very summery.
For now, it’s all about the classic fall tote with a removable interior envelope bag ($190). This one looks great in midnight blue, dark brown, and a jewel-toned rose—all with natural trim. Not only is this two-in-one beauty effortlessly chic, it’s also very functional. That’s because cork is naturally water-resistant, easy to clean, and incredibly lightweight.
Another all-seasons design is the cross-shoulder tablet bag with an adjustable strap and magnetic-snap closure ($140). As with the tote, the low-maintenance, rain-resisting, and featherweight fabric makes this one ideal for travelling—or, as Vainer points out, tailor-made for carrying around on all those soggy wet days we have ahead of us: “It really is perfect for Vancouver weather.” True, dat!