LaFlore Paris Makes Beautiful Bags out of Cork

The 3-in-1 Bobobark backpack purse is a zero-waste fashionista's dream.

Bobobark and Bebebark
Bobobark + Bebebark bags.

LaFlore Paris

LaFlore Paris is a French maker of handbags that has gained fans worldwide for its stunning convertible backpack purse, the Bobobark. This unusual bag is made from cork, one of the most sustainable materials on the planet, and it is constructed to last a lifetime with proper care. Its launch on Kickstarter raised a phenomenal $1.4 million in funding, which goes to show how the design principles resonated with customers.

The company was founded by the father-daughter duo, Elie and Natacha Seroussi. With Elie's background in fashion and craftsmanship and Natacha's own passion for style, nature, and artistic endeavors, the pair launched LaFlore as a way to make chic, minimalist fashion vegan and sustainable. The Bobobark was their first product, and it will soon be joined by the smaller Bebebark. Additional accessories, including a wallet, coin purse, and glasses case, are also available. 

Natacha and Elie Seroussi
Natacha and Elie Seroussi, founders. LaFlore Paris

The bags are made from cork bark, a remarkable material that's both renewable and biodegradable. It is harvested in carefully managed quantities from trees in Portugal, a process that does not hurt them; in fact, Natacha told Treehugger that it strengthens them and helps them capture three to five times more carbon dioxide post-harvest, while releasing even more oxygen. Cork trees can live for 200 years and the bark regenerates every nine to 12 years. The resulting material is 100% waterproof and naturally antibacterial.

Natacha explained that finding a replacement for conventional leather was not easy, and that "plastic" vegan leather was not an option, due to its environmental implications. Nor did she like pineapple or apple skin leather alternatives, interesting though they may be. She said they look "too much like fabric and [do] not have the 'living' and organic texture that we wanted." Cork turned out to be the answer, she says:

"When I first saw cork during a trip to Lisbon I fell in love with the material. It has this very soft and supple texture but at the same time plenty of grain and marks that makes it alive and unique. Each piece of cork tells a different story and comes from a different tree; I love the symbolism of it. I also love the way cork ages, it really gets a patina over time and the more you moisturize it the better it looks and holds."

Natacha said that using cork let her play around with the bag's design in ways that leather would not have allowed. Because cork is so light she was able to use heavier brass elements that have become the brand's signature. "On a leather bag, it would have been difficult to add this type of closure, since the weight of the leather itself is already very heavy." The matte texture gives it a unique appearance, as well.

The Bobobark is a three-in-one bag. It can be a backpack, a briefcase, or a handbag, and converting between the different styles takes only a few seconds. This, the company says, makes it "ideal for minimalist enthusiasts who prefer to have multi-use products or zero-waste warriors trying to limit their consumption." The new Bebebark, which has been fully funded on Kickstarter and will soon be available for order on the website, is a smaller version with a chain strap. 

Both of these have met with tremendous success because, as Natacha explained to Treehugger, shoppers want to make environmentally responsible choices: "People all over the world are realizing that we must change the way we live and purchase goods so that our planet can be preserved. Choosing a bag that will last, made out of sustainable material and cruelty-free is becoming a priority for women, and this is the only possible future for fashion."

The bags are manufactured in China. LaFlore defends this by explaining that, after a long global search for manufacturers, its Chinese partners were the only ones able to work with cork leather, keep up with worldwide demand, and follow the required cruelty-free and eco-friendly production processes.

"No mass producing here. While we do have a high demand for LaFlore products, we refuse to compromise on our ethics. Our handbags and accessories are still handcrafted by skilled artisans using the same high quality eco-friendly materials we always have ... There's a lot of stigma that comes along with 'Made in China' labels, but we'd like to put an end to that line of thinking."

Natacha's quest for a "living texture," as she mentioned above, is apt because the Bobobark truly is a bag designed to live and grow with its owner. LaFlore's website contains detailed instructions for caring for the cork bag that includes washing with soap and water, applying leather cream, trimming bag straps, and using black shoe polish to darken any spots that may have lightened with use. "Stick to a maintenance schedule," the website says, which should be twice monthly if the bag is used daily. Replacement straps, screws, and rings are available for purchase.

Bebebark. LaFlore Paris

If you happen to be in Paris, LaFlore's shop offers a free "beauty treatment" to bag owners, in which bags are cleaned thoroughly, as well as a free repair policy. Furthermore, Natacha told Treehugger that "we are planning to open a secondhand corner in our boutique, to sell samples and returned bags that were only used a few times." On top of the environmental benefits, she says that this will allow anyone to be able to afford a LaFlore Paris piece.

LaFlore's beautiful bags prove that there can be a third path to sustainable handbags that is neither leather nor plastic-based vegan leather. Cork is a kinder, more sustainable alternative than either of those and, when combined with high-quality construction and generous repair policies, makes these bags worth their upfront investment. 

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