Perfect Trim: Corozo Buttons


The phrase “God is in the detail” reminds us that it is the little things that count, and that we should pay attention to every element of our work no matter how small or trivial it may seem. When designing our swim shorts, Riz labours for countless hours in a never-ending effort to refine his designs, reduce unnecessary processes, materials and trim, and produce the most ecological and beautiful product possible. Our corozo buttons, made from the nut of the tagua palm, are one example of this attention to detail. 

The tagua palm grows in north and northwest South America, and can be found in coastal mountain ranges across northern Peru, Equador, Columbia and southern Panama. Its botanical name, phytelephas macrocarpas, translates from Greek as the “elephant plant” and it was named because of both the excessively large nature of the tree’s fruit and seeds, and because of the ivory-like characteristics of the nut’s dried endosperm which caused it to be nicknamed “vegetable ivory”.

In the mid-1800s, some ships returning to Europe from South America began to use the enormous and very heavy nuts of the tagua palms as ballast, as it was more stable than the commonly used sand that was liable to become heavier if wet.  On one crossing a German artist carved one of the tagua nuts and discovered how suitable it was for this purpose, and how similar it was to elephant ivory. That same artist began exporting tagua nut from Equador to Europe and it became a popular material for buttons, jewellery and ornamental carving because of the way in which it could be worked; it can be cut, heated, etched, dyed and polished with extraordinary results.  Business boomed, with corozo buttons accounting for 20% of the buttons used in the USA in the 1920s, until World War Two and the advent of plastics (which meant cheap, mass-produced buttons) almost destroyed the trade in tagua, which didn’t recover until the late 1980s and the advent of the conscious consumer.

a mococha or fruit cluster from a tagua palm 

Each tagua palm produces up to 15 large, spikey clusters of fruit known as mococha, each of which has approximately 30 seeds (the nuts), called corozo.  Once mature, a tagua palm can produce between 14-22 kg of nuts annually for around 100 years and because the mococha clusters have to ripen on the tree and fall naturally in order for the nuts to be fully developed and suitable for use, it does not require the felling of the tree.  Initially, the inside of the nuts contain a thick fluid similar to coco water (it is diuretic and historically was used locally as a treatment for kidney complaints) and so the nuts must be left to cure in the sun for several months until the nut has hardened into a white material.  The nut can then be sliced and processed.  As a natural material corozo has a beautiful grain pattern and is porous enough to absorb dye, further enhancing the grain.

a corozo nut from a tagua palm, cut in half to show the vegetable ivory 

Corozo products are sustainable and a far more appealing material for the buttons of our shorts than plastic; it’s a natural rain forest product that provides farmers with an alternative to monoculture banana plantations or highly destructive cattle ranching, and currently supports around 30,000 families in Equador. 

a pile of corozo buttons ready to sew onto riz swim shorts 

In our quest to refine our shorts, corozo buttons offer a beautiful solution with a lower impact upon the natural environment.  A single button may seem like a small thing, but it’s an incredibly important part of our tailored designs and one that, like everything, is worth putting time and effort into perfecting.

See the buttons proudly togther with our shorts HERE >


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