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materialmatters

Material Matters: CORDURA

Date: November 16 2019

By: Minh Vuong

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CORDURA is one of the most omnipresent textiles in apparel, footwear and accessories today. The contemporary form has remained relatively unchanged for the better part of 50 years, and has only improved to be even more durable for a wide range of applications. Its enduring success can be attributed to products made from CORDURA being true to the mantra: ‘Durable. Versatile. Reliable.’

The earliest reference to the CORDURA name is believed to be in 1929, when the DuPont company discovered a way to turn rayon filaments into durable fibres. These fibres would then be added to car tyres because they actually increased their lifespan. This hardwearing application was proven in the harshest of testing grounds: World War II.

Expanding on this initial reputation, the CORDURA that we know and love today actually refers to a particular line of nylon products first developed by DuPont in 1966–67, known as Nylon 66. The following decade would bring about some of CORDURA’s biggest developmental steps. The initial uptake by iconic bag companies like Eastpak and JanSport marked a shift in CORDURA’s most common use – eventually capturing 40 per cent of the luggage market. 

The development of dyeing techniques by DuPont in 1977 undoubtedly made coloured CORDURA an attractive option for brands, only solidifying its success. At the same time, the sporting and outdoor market saw immense value in shifting towards products made from brightly coloured, lightweight and durable synthetics. Into the 1980s, CORDURA Plus introduced both silky-soft 1000 Denier and lightweight 500 Denier versions for different types of apparel and accessory needs. By the 1990s and 2000s, CORDURA was well integrated into workwear and military facets.

Jansport Cordura Backpack

JanSport have used CORDURA in their products since the 1970s. Image credit: CORDURA/JanSport

Cordura Classic Fabric Diagram

CORDURA Classic fabric with waterproof coating. Image credit: CORDURA

While CORDURA was divested in 2004, becoming part of INVISTA, the material essentially remains the same, as further technological developments have branched into different uses. Currently, there are 16 different types of CORDURA fabric. The range includes CORDURA Classic, which has remained mostly unchanged since the 1960s, and is still super versatile from everything from military wear to backpacks. For even more durability, CORDURA NYCO was developed for military use, and is three times stronger than 100% cotton textiles!

Taking things down towards the ankles, CORDURA’s high abrasion resistance and low weight make it an excellent fabric for footwear. It is often used on high-wear areas like the toebox and mid panel for its ability to shed weight but remain super strong. Just about every major sneaker brand has used CORDURA on their shoes, both as an inline material choice, and also for special releases.

Carhartt Converse One Star Cordura Green

Carhartt x Converse One Star. Image credit: Converse

Sneakers To See Out The Decade New Balance Cordura 997H

New Balance 997H featuring CORDURA uppers. Image credit: New Balance

CORDURA has appeared prominently this year on the adidas Busenitz skate shoe, and the 2019 Nite Jogger model. In past years, it’s been used on everything from heritage silhouettes like the Superstar to new-age models like the 2010s hit the ZX Flux. New Balance have also applied CORDURA with aplomb on the contemporary 997H and 997S, but NB’s use also dates as far back as the Everest-conquering Rainier hiking boot from 1982. Reebok routinely release top hits like the Instapump Fury and Classic Nylon, imbued with CORDURA. A densely woven edition of the textile was used on the Carhartt x Converse One Star, and it has also formed the uppers of many Chuck Taylor All Star colourways. California competitors, Vans, have also upped their game with CORDURA-built classics in the Old Skool and Sk8-Hi. The list goes on…

Supreme North Face Gore Tex Cordura Jacket

Supreme x The North Face. CORDURA panels, and GORE-TEX to boot. Image credit: Supreme

Of course, it’s not just sneakers that CORDURA is used for these days. Apparel and luggage is where the textile still largely reigns supreme. At the end of 2018, notorious streetwear brand Supreme continued their longstanding collaborative partnership with The North Face, this time incorporating prominently-branded CORDURA fabric and GORE-TEX lining into a hardcore jacket collection. On a minute level, Japanese artisan sock makers CHUP have woven CORDURA into their confidently named LIFE LONG product range. While Supreme’s popular waist bags are also usually made from CORDURA. On bags, every luggage company worth their salt use CORDURA to deliver tough products. Staying true to its active origins, CORDURA is found on products from trusted brands such as Manhattan Portage, Topo Designs and Crumpler. On the luxury end of the scale, Japanese label visvim incorporates CORDURA into their backpacks, which sometimes retail in excess of $1,000! 

Chup Life Long Cordura Sock

CHUP's LIFE LONG sock range uses CORDURA woven into its body. Image credit: CHUP

Today, CORDURA is most likely found in bags and luggage, and the industrial and military industries. However, its casual use is currently enjoying a resurgence, as evidenced by its increased presence on the sneaker and streetwear scenes. Keep an eye out for the distinct black and yellow tag: it’s a guarantee that the product will stand the test of time.

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