What is corozo?
Corozo is the name of a nut that is the raw material for a type of sustainable button. Corozo buttons have a smooth resin-like texture and are surprisingly difficult to break (you’ll need more than a nutcracker for this one!). We’ve always thought it was amazing that we can replace fossil-fuel based and non-biodegradable polyester buttons with a 100% natural product, so we’ve decided to embrace our inner nerds for this blogpost and reveal the coolest facts about corozo. Later we will also explain how the buttons are made and how sustainable they are.
1. Corozo grows on “the elephant tree”
Corozo, while technically a nut, is also the seed of the Tagua tree whose scientific name is Phytelephas, from the Greek roots phyton - for plant - and elephas - for elephant! This references both the size of the corozo seeds and their similarity to elephant ivory. White, smooth and silky on the inside, corozo has earned itself a nickname too: ‘vegetable ivory’.
2. Wild at heart
The Tagua or Elephant Tree is rarely cultivated on farms, preferring the natural water supply and unique microclimate of Central & South American rainforests. Corozo is therefore a product of natural processes, with little interference from humans.
3. Harvested hands-free
After hardening over a period of about 8 months, the 5-6 corozo nuts that are housed in each pod simply fall to the ground. Of course, they then need to be picked up and collected by labourers! This contrasts to the harvest of (e.g.) almonds, which involves shaking the tree until it gives up all its goods.
4. Supports local economies
Because the Tagua tree lives in disparate areas and cannot be grown by massive corporations the corozo industry goes hand-in-hand with native farmers who are knowledgeable of the rainforests and respect the tree’s bare necessities. According to CORPEI, the Commercial branch of the Foreign Relations Ministry, the Tagua industry supports 30,000 families in Ecuador alone.
5. 100% Vegan
As a plant-based material, corozo helps make some of our styles 100% Vegan - so that we don’t have to rely on materials like animal horn or even real ivory.
6. Invented by an artist
Legend has it that corozo buttons take their origin from a german artist who began experimenting with this unique material in the mid 1800s (at the time corozo nuts were used to provide stability for trade ships), and found that it could be easily carved into interesting shapes. He commercialised the idea, and kickstarted a vegetable ivory boom.
7. Scratch and temperature resistant
This is an important property for any button material. You certainly don’t want them to melt or warp and you also don’t want them to get scratched or worn down. Corozo is a durable material that stands the test of time.
8. Each button is as original as you!
As well as being eco-friendly, corozo is an ethical product too, given the way that they support local economies and families. As if to reflect this human touch, each corozo button has a unique grain - creating a faint impression that is as original as a fingerprint.
9. The mortal enemy of plastic
In the 1920s, corozo made up 20% of all the buttons used in US clothing. Then came the advent of plastic, which manufacturers favoured due to its low cost, speedy production, and strength. This sent the Tagua industry into decline until the 90s when a special initiative was set-up to help it recover. Fortunately, as fashion looks to clean up its image and reduce plastic pollution, a corozo renaissance is underway - even if it is still a minority material.
How are corozo buttons made?
Having been sold to artisans by local farmers, corozo arrives at the factory as blanks - white slices that are then processed and smoothed down to give them a beautiful sheen. Those slices are carved into unique shapes according to the customer’s wishes.
Once cut, the corozo buttons are put into a tumbler with water and an abrasive material for 24 hours. This removes any rough edges or imperfections.
How sustainable are corozo buttons?
As you many have guessed, corozo buttons are very sustainable and have become a mainstay of our slow fashion forte. Being natural, organic and biodegradable, they beat polyester buttons hands-down. The fact that the corozo industry supports healthy rainforest ecosystems and the communities who guard them has also not gone unnoticed in a time when deforestation is rife. This has a secondary positive impact because the fewer trees that are cut down, and the more rainforest that is protected, the more CO₂ can be absorbed. Perhaps the only environmental drawback of corozo is its need to be washed for 24 hours in a tumbler. But compared to the emissions, (marine) pollution and waste resulting from polyester buttons, corozo is one of the most eco-friendly alternatives there is!