Cork: a natural wonder

Cork tree

When we were designing and sourcing our materials for Fulton, we knew from the start that we wanted to take a sustainable route. We needed to feel good about what we were putting in people’s shoes and out in the world. We were especially motivated by the status quo in the footwear industry, where the vast majority of affordable insoles are made with gels, petroleum-based foams, and other synthetic materials.

We quickly learned that the footwear industry accounts for 1.4% of global carbon emissions. For context, the entire aviation industry accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions. The plastics and foams used to make our shoes are almost as damaging to our planet as the emissions created from operating tens of thousands of flights across the globe each day—most footwear is shockingly unsustainable! There was no question we had to do much better with our materials and manufacturing processes.

After doing some digging, natural cork seemed like, well, the natural choice. Anyone who’s held a wine cork in their hand knows that cork is bouncy yet sturdy, making it an ideal base for something that needs to be comfortable and supportive, like an insole. Cork is also highly durable, so we could be sure our dependable arch support would last the lifetime of people’s well-loved and well-worn shoes. But perhaps most importantly, we discovered that cork is both good for the feet and good for the planet.

cork forrest image

Supporting the earth

In the simplest terms, we picked cork because it’s one of the most environmentally friendly materials out there. We source our cork from Portugal, where the trees grow in abundant forests and support a centuries-old agricultural industry and a thriving ecosystem of diverse animal and bird species. Portugal’s plentiful cork trees are relatively low-maintenance, requiring little intervention in the way of pruning, irrigation, or pesticides.

The process of extracting cork is highly regulated in Portugal. Trees must be 25 years old before they can be harvested, after which point they can only be stripped once every 9 years. The material forms just under the tree’s upper bark layer and workers use a small hatchet to strip the outer layer and harvest the cork by hand. This careful process is harmless to the cork trees, so they continue to grow and produce for the entirety of their lifetimes (often over 200 years!) The steady regeneration means that natural cork is a completely renewable material. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable; from beginning to end, it’s sustainable and non-harming to the earth.

Equally as impressive, harvested cork trees absorb and convert carbon dioxide at an even greater rate than non-harvested trees. They offset an estimated 10 million tons of carbon dioxide every year in Portugal alone. Manufacturing Fulton insoles with natural Portuguese cork is a completely carbon-negative process—we remove more carbon from the world than we generate. Working with cork, rather than synthetic materials, makes it all possible.

Supporting the foot

Along with its many impressive environmentally friendly qualities, cork is the ideal material for providing optimal arch support. As the base of an insole, it molds to the shape of the foot over time (approximately 10 hours of walking), creating a more comfortable, supported step that’s unique to every person.

Cork is also highly shock-absorbent, so it mitigates the impact of walking around on hard floors and protects the feet and arches. This prevents pain in the feet and through the kinetic chain as you walk, run, and go about your daily life. By ensuring that the arches are supported and pressure is evenly distributed throughout the foot, cork insoles help to improve posture and correct misalignment.

Finally, cork is anti-microbial and naturally repels moisture. Translation: your shoes won't get smelly! Sweat doesn’t sink in, so the bacteria that cause odor can’t multiply and your feet stay nice and dry.

With natural cork as the base of our Fulton insoles, people can be more aligned, comfortable, and confident that they’re supporting a sustainable business. We’re proud that this wonder material helps us contribute to a more supported and healthier world.