Isabel Teodósio from Lisbon footwear store Rutz, with a shoe made entirely from cork — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Cork. It’s one of the most versatile natural materials in the world, and Portugal is the world’s largest producer of it.
Fitting then – and rather surprising, perhaps – that one of its many applications includes the creation of shoes. Yes, footwear.
At Rutz, the range of shoes made from cork is extraordinary. Located in Lisbon's hip LX Factory zone in Alcântara, the store specializes in this emblematic Portuguese product. And while the emphasis is firmly placed on women’s footwear, men will also find a shoe that fits.
The collection of womens shoes includes these comfortable loafers — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Cork is tough, pliable and waterproof, and it's easily shaped to wrap around feet. Rutz’s design team has obviously had great fun working with it because the collections, winter and summer, represent all sorts of styles for him and her.
“Some of our clients don’t even believe cork is used,” says Rutz’s Isabel Teodósio, whose business card eloquently describes her as a "sales cork lover" and who works with "executive cork lover" Raquel Castro. “It’s only after they look closely that they realize our shoes really are made of the material.”
The craftsmanship involved in making a shoe from cork is skilled and time consuming, and the finish does indeed resemble the more commonly used leather.
Incredibly, this classic pointed-toe shoe, like everything else at Rutz, is crafted out of cork! — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
But it’s clear that cork has a veneer all its own, beautifully textured and ingrained with naturally warm hues. As such, it’s a perfectly viable alternative to leather and far more eco-friendly.
Rutz takes advantage of cork’s natural qualities to produce a collection of footwear predominantly manufactured in earthy tones like brown, beige and cinnamon. But shoppers are delighted when they discover that an additional spectrum of color is incorporated into many of the designs: olive-green, burgundy, black and even blue.
The range of cork footwear at Rutz extends to a choice of fashionable mens shoes — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The pick of women’s shoes includes a lofty, multi-eyed army boot; snazzy white snake Texan high heel; classic pointed toe; and gloriously soft sneaker or moccasin, with bow or tassel.
Guys are similarly spoilt for choice with casual Oxford, Chelsea boot, loafer and classic brogue among the Rutz collection.
And you don’t have to be well heeled in order to foot the bill. They sell for very comfortable prices!
The brand name Rutz is a clever play on words drawn from the English roots, to convey cork’s Portuguese origins and the tradition surrounding it, and routes, a philosophical reference to the paths one follows in order to achieve a better life.
The interior of Rutz showcases its own shoes, plus handbags supplied from an independent commercial partner — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
“We are bringing together the past and the future,” elaborates Teodósio. “Rutz unites two of Portugal’s major industries – footwear and cork.”
The idea, she continues, is to reinvent the traditional image of cork by moulding it in the form of a shoe and presenting it as stylish, urban art.
Shoppers at Rutz can also browse an assortment of handbags supplied by an independent commercial partner and crafted in the same attractive and impermeable material.
It’s another reason to put your foot in it and walk in cork.