Gorgeous CORK bags from Jess Rizzuti

Jess Rizzuti’s line is characterized by a perfect combination of classic silhouettes and unique materials and patterns. I happened upon these beautiful handbags by the NY-based designer during Fashion’s Night Out and had to know more, so I sat down with Jess in Soho pre-Sandy.

I’ve never seen anything but wine stoppers made from cork before, so I was shocked and impressed with what Jess has done with the stuff.  Not only is it a far more versatile material than I realized, it’s also extremely sustainable.  Cork, as it turns out, comes from the Cork Oak tree.  These trees live for 200 years and cork bark is harvested from them every 9-10 years, so that’s a pretty good return per tree.  The Cork Oak forests also help sustain local ecosystems and prevent desertification.  Cork is also an easily-recycled material.  Jess’s cork, and about 50% of the stuff in the world, comes from Portugal.  Oh, and it floats! Which is handy for those nights when you’re stumbling home across a bridge and drop your bag in.

Jess, who holds a BFA in textiles from the Rhode Island School of Design, discovered cork and integrated it into her line in 2009.  Now, it comprises about half of her collection.  In general, she’s extremely conscious about her materials and practices, and all of her production is done locally.  Another expression of her affinity for interesting textiles is the beautiful variety of batik prints that line all of her bags.

“In this competitive market, you need to find something that sets you apart,” Jess explained.  “I’m lucky that I discovered this awesome material and am able to stay true to my design aesthetic.”

I am too.  I tend towards the classic shapes myself, and I love her way of embossing the cork to create all different patterns and colors.  We share a dislike of overly-embellished handbags, which are (unfortunately) running rampant in the market.  Jess’s bags, in contrast, have lovely detail without being ostentatious.

Jess Rizzuti has been nominated two years in a row for her creations in cork as Best Green Handbag in the Independent Handbag Designer Awards sponsored by InStyle. The eco friendly designs utilized water-based dyes/glue, heat transferred patterns, renewable resources, and waste reduction concepts.  This year, she’s going for a win.

Jess’s plans for the future include branching into shoe design, mens bags and luggage, as well as making a dress out of cork! She’s also going to experiment with creative ways to repurpose her scraps.

The FW 13 collection will feature leopard-print cork and more colors, including wine, plum, bronze, and burnt orange. She’s also working on a collaboration with female artisans in Kenya, but that’s another article…stay tuned!   



Ariel Azoff

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