GORE-TEX is the ultimate flex. Built on the rock-solid assurance of ‘Guaranteed to Keep You Dry’, the brand’s diamond-shaped logo is a big, black badge of honour beloved by hardcore hikers, fussy sneakerheads, and tech jacket aficionados alike. Some 50 years since the mysterious membrane was discovered by accident, GORE-TEX is still the official gold standard in waterproof-breathable technology.
The GORE-TEX story starts in 1958, when Bill Gore started W. L. Gore & Associates in his basement to develop insulated wiring for the computer industry. By 1969, Bill’s cables had found their way to the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. Later that same year, Bill Gore’s son Bob discovered expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) when he yanked on strands of the PTFE polymer. Bob’s sudden exertion expanded the material by 800 per cent, forming a unique structure that was composed of 70 per cent air. It was a random stroke of genius that would pay huge dividends down the line.
GORE-TEX, as it would become known, is a porous polymer that repels water from the outside while simultaneously allowing sweat vapour to escape from the inside. Since water droplets are thousands of times larger than the pores of the fabric protected with GORE-TEX, they can’t penetrate the material, while vapour is small enough to escape. Those unique and counterintuitive properties are what makes it perfect for protecting humans from the elements.
By 1976, GORE-TEX was fully dialled in and applied to jackets, making it the first breathable, waterproof and windproof fabric to hit the market. The first GORE-TEX footwear arrived four years later when Danner, the pioneering American shoemaker, created the Light Boot, which featured a bootie-like structure lined with the laminated membrane.
Nike responded with the GORE-TEX-equipped Air Approach hiking boot in 1981. Commitment to the outdoors cause inspired the birth of the All Conditions Gear (ACG) division in 1989. Since then, Nike ACG releases such as the Air Minot, Terra Zaherra, Takao, Air Wildedge GTX (a Sneaker Freaker cult classic), and the current Terra Antarktik have solidified the affiliation, while the recent Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 keeps trail runners dry in the moistest conditions. The pinnacle of the partnership arrived in 2019 with a 10-strong GORE-TEX x Air Force 1 collection.
Given GORE-TEX’s North American origins, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that adidas was one of the earliest footwear adopters. In 1984, the pragmatically named ‘Waterproof’ runner hit the street. Vintage pairs are legendary unicorns among hardcore adi collectors, which no doubt inspired Gary Aspden to re-release the Waterproof model under his adidas Spezial imprint in 2015. In more recent times, both the LXCON and NMD have flaunted GORE-TEX, as does the entire TERREX line on the performance side of the business. Classics like the Stan Smith, SC Premiere and Superstar have been recently fitted with GORE-TEX INFINIUM THERMIUM, adding an ultra-thin insulation to the OG Three Stripes line-up to keep the feet warm, without changing the style of the sneaker. The difference between the original waterproof-breathable GORE-TEX and GORE-TEX INFINIUM THERMIUM sneakers is that the latter provide a performance upgrade, but are not waterproof.
Clarks, Vans and New Balance have all recently upgraded their standard issue releases with waterproof GORE-TEX protection. GORE-TEX’s ongoing partnership with Converse on the Urban Utility range is the perfect example of two iconic brands playing to their strengths. While it’s the first time Converse have attempted technical outerwear, the results are clean and surprisingly affordable.
Boutiques also appreciate the value of the black diamond shape GORE-TEX logo. In Boston, Bodega dared us to ‘Get Wet’ with their ripstop ASICS GEL-Lyte V collaboration from 2014, while Packer Shoes revisited the same silhouette to immortalise George Costanza’s ‘Scary Cold’ monologue. BEAMS and mita sneakers are just two Japanese retailers to feature GORE-TEX in recent co-branded projects.
On the apparel front, the GORE-TEX Rolodex is stacked with heavy hitter contacts. Arc’teryx, ACRONYM, Nike, Carhartt WIP, Consortium, Junya Watanabe, Sneakersnstuff and Y-3 have all collaborated with GORE-TEX on technical outerwear. Supreme have produced dozens of GORE-TEX-infused products, including triple-branded projects with Rammellzee and visvim.
As the tech reputation has grown, so too has the size of the GORE-TEX font used on jackets and accessories, literal confirmation of its lucrative cachet.
Too Cool For School
When Bob Gore discovered ePTFE in 1969, he had no idea Seinfeld would catapult his experimental brand into sitcom consciousness 25 years later when George Costanza smugly uttered ‘It’s GORE-TEX, you know about GORE-TEX?’
The 1990s also saw GORE-TEX take to the streets and become a staple among the young and affluent. Rappers with a penchant for ostentatious hiking gear in madcap colours threw down lyrical nods like confetti. Nike stayed on-trend with the ACG Air Tarn boot that was a far more comfortable option than a pair of Timbs, while Kool Moe Dee and Sir Mix-a-Lot (among others) kept the GORE-TEX name circulating on wax.
It’s one thing to make GORE-TEX cool, but ensuring their products are legit performers has always been the number one priority.
The brand’s stringent testing procedures are among the industry’s most rigorous. At the Gore HQ in Elkton, Maryland, engineers brutalise every GORE-TEX garment and shoe. The footwear is subjected to hundreds of thousands of simulated steps while submerged in water, and centrifugal spinners test the limits of durability. The R&D team recently devised a synthetic foot complete with moisture sensors and sweat glands that perspire on command to mimic human behaviour.
All of that happens, of course, before anything is taken into the field for use in extreme elements. GORE-TEX has been tried and tested everywhere from outer space, where it was part of the 1981 Columbia mission, to Antarctica, where it reportedly saved the lives of adventurers traversing the continent.
The next step for GORE-TEX is to infiltrate the sneaker game even further while still keeping the brand at the hydrophobic heart of the outdoors business. At Paris Fashion Week earlier this year, legendary artist Futura 2000 unveiled a curated collection of GORE-TEX apparel and sneakers at a pop-up titled Selected Memories of Functionality Vol. 2. Runway appearances and a freshly-inked deal with China’s Li-Ning dominated press coverage of PFW, and offer a glimpse of what’s to come from GORE-TEX.
GORE-TEX’s footwear division is constantly sweating the small stuff, which is why their commercial offering never stops evolving. Current projects like GORE-TEX SURROUND with 360° breathability around the foot have taken seven years to develop. That intense focus on innovation, coupled with an uncompromising approach to functionality, ensures we can look forward to a condensation-free future.
Rain will never ruin the GORE-TEX parade. For 50 years, they’ve provided head-to-toe protection in all kinds of clammy conditions. With their latest adventures trickling down from the runway to the street, cool cats are hot-stepping with a different kind of drip – and nothing is going to dampen this mood!
This feature was originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 43. You can get your copy HERE.