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Defending Our Rainforests One Wild-Grown Nut Button at a Time

By Annie McBride, Outerknown


We’re making clothing to change the industry, so every little design detail matters. From our fibers to our dyes to our finishes, it all has an environmental impact — especially when it comes to our buttons. By opting for corozo over virgin plastic, we can help prevent rainforest deforestation one wild-grown nut button at a time.

Plastic buttons have been the go-to for clothing brands since they were introduced in the early 1900s. While valued for their uniformity and durability, they’re derived from petroleum and wind up polluting our environment. Corozo, on the other hand, is grown, not made and is an integral part of a healthy rainforest ecosystem. It’s an all-natural, renewable, and biodegradable alternative that we choose for our gear.

Corozo — also known as tagua or ivory nut — is the seed of the tagua palm, which grows wild in equatorial rainforests, throughout northern South America. A mature female tagua tree can produce 8 infructescence* (spiky fruit orbs, some the size of a bowling ball) per season and each one is jam-packed with seeds. After reaching maturity, about 15 years in, a tree can bear fruit for a century or more, so working with a tagua tree is truly a long-term partnership.


The local forest community waits patiently for the fruit to ripen and drop to the forest floor — if picked too soon, the material won’t be suitable to sell, so the trees remain intact. One tree alone can produce about 2,000-3,000 buttons per growing season! It’s a natural rainforest output that offers collectors and artisans an opportunity to make a sustainable living off safeguarding nature.

The Amazon is home to 10% of all known plant and animal species in the world and we’re losing it at an alarming rate! We need trees to support a healthy rainforest ecosystem and to store our excess carbon — the Amazon is a carbon sink. While much of the rainforest is at risk of illegal logging or clear-cutting to make way for monoculture banana plantations and cattle ranches, tagua forests stand strong because the fruit-bearing trees are far more valuable alive.

ABOVE (Photo: EU Design / Doris Domoszlai-Lantner )

Once gathered, seeds dry in the sun for a few months and harden into the material we work with. They’re sliced into blanks and sent to button distributors to get customized for brands, etched, dyed, and polished — waste material is turned into powder, a natural exfoliant that can replace plastic microbeads. Our design team leans on corozo because it is incredibly durable and scratch-resistant, while maintaining a beautiful grain that lends to a natural aesthetic. You’ll notice corozo buttons on our best-selling Blanket Shirt, our Lost Moleskin Shirt, and our sun-loving BBQ Shirt, and in our upcoming spring lines!

We keep our supply chain buttoned-up and we’re proud of our partners: EU Design facilities are OEKO-TEX® certified and Trafino was awarded the “Distintivo Iniciativa Verde” (Green Initiative Award) by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment for promoting the conservation of rainforests.

“Through the use of corozo buttons, Outerknown is avoiding the contamination caused by plastic buttons and, at the same time, contributing to the defense of tropical forests and improving the quality of life of the local communities and artisans involved in the production chain.” Ignacio Maya, CEO TRAFINO S.A.

*Defined as an ensemble of fruits that grow from the ovaries of a plant, e.g., pineapple or grapes.

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