Many people don’t think much of the cork they pop from a wine bottle. But Napa resident and winemaker Bex Bishop sees big potential.
Bishop has launched a line of accessories called BX NAPA Cork Couture under her wine label, BX of Napa. In doing so, she’s leveraging the benefits of a renewable material, all while featuring a unique twist on the everyday accessory, she said.
The project started as a way to market her brand, and has developed into its own business, Bishop said. Her products, including hats, purses, iPod covers and stands, pet collars, bags, ties, coin purses and other items cloaked in cork, are fire branded with BX Napa’s name. Her goal is for her products have all the luxury and style of Louis Vuitton or Coach, but with an eco-friendly flare.
“I think it’s got a cool factor in so many different kind of ways,” Bishop said.
She launched Cork Couture in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. She continues to sell her items on her website, has spoken with several shops about carrying them and is developing a catalog.
Cork is a durable, renewable, lightweight, water-resistant, stain-resistant, bug-repellent, flexible, fire-resistant and hypoallergenic material, Bishop said.
“It’s just got all these amazing qualities in one, so to me it seems, why are we not using this for everything?” she said.
Cork is collected by stripping the bark off cork trees, which grows back. It is a myth that there is a shortage of cork, Bishop said. A forest fire did limit production at one point, but that was temporary, Bishop said.
The cork is then put through a special heating process, which breaks down the rigid fibers in the material and gives it elasticity and flexibility, Bishop said. A light non-toxic coating is then applied to increase its water resistance and durability.
Most of her products are sent directly to Bishop after they are produced in Portugal. For her purses, she found a sewing house in the United States that hand stitches them into her designs and patterns. Bishop firebrands all of her products and puts the finishing touches herself in her Napa home.
The accessories range from $20 for a coin purse or bracelet to $275 for a briefcase. The items are smooth to the touch with a mottled tan color. They hold similarities to the look of a wine cork, but with a polished gleam. Several feature woven touches or the splash of another colored material.
Bishop appreciates products that are multifunctional, so she has made many of her cork accessories that way. Her belts can be worn on both sides. The iPad cover also serves as a stand. She has a bag that can work as a messenger bag, or with the straps shortened, is a fold-over purse. If the straps are taken off, it becomes a clutch.
“I love art, but I only like functional art,” she said.
Bishop said she has long toyed with cork as an accessory, drilling holes in her wine bottle corks and crafting them into earrings or necklaces. She even set out to make a cork-kini, a bikini made with cork.
But her interest blossomed into something more serious as she was researching options for her wine bottles in 2009. She found a pliable fabric being produced in Portugal and began to see it as a product she could use in branding her wines. In January, Bishop was asked by Sundance Film Festival organizers to pour her wines in the celebrity lounge, which featured eco-friendly brands. When Bishop mentioned the cork products, she was asked to bring them too. Bishop was amazed at the positive response she got from those who visited her table, she said. She has sold dozens of items already and is in discussion with a winery about the possibility of selling more.
For now, she is focusing on the accessories, allowing her business to grow as organically as its products are, she said. But she already has ideas for clothing items and fashion involving cork, she said. This will allow her to delve into fashion, an interest she has held since her mom and her designed and sewed her gymnastics leotards as a child, she said.
Once the line begins to pick up,she said she will have more time to dream up clothing possibilities, such as a cork-kini.
“I look forward to having even more fun,” she said.
Bishop’s dream is to have someone wear her cork bow tie to the Academy Awards and have a cork bikini worn in an issue of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
“A girl’s gotta have goals, you know?” she said.