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Materials & Patterns: CORDURA

From the street, to the backcountry, to active combat theaters all over the world, CORDURA is a fabric whose name has remained synonymous with durability. A proven, and confident fabric; CORDURA is relied upon by not only fashion and gear aficionados, but also those depending on it for their survival. It is quite simply the unequivocal choice for those who demand the best from their gear.

Invented over eighty years ago, CORDURA was initially a rayon-based fabric created by textile maker DuPont in 1929. With the discovery and advent of DuPont’s superior nylon technology in the late ‘60s, their pioneering rayon weaves were abandoned, and the brand name was transferred to focusing on more robust nylon applications. As of 2004, the brand is now owned and trademarked by the Invista corporation, which is the world’s largest integrated producer of synthetic polymers and fibers, and whose broad catalog of fabric names includes household active brands like Lycra, COOLMAX, Tactel, and synthetic insulatory fibers like THERMOLITE.

CORDURA is essentially varying weaves of nylon with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. And when treated with a polyurethane coating, it is considered waterproof. But long before its use as an obvious choice for travel pack fabric, CORDURA saw its first action in the military during WWII, when it was sewn into tires to increase their puncture protection in hostile environments. It was especially practical in tires, because despite not being entirely flame retardant (like modern forms of Kevlar), it strengthened when heated, without compromising its wear life. Following the war, it wasn’t until 1977 when DuPont engineers discovered a means of dying CORDURA, paving the way for an explosion of practical commercial application. It was the innovators at Eastpak who were the first brand to use the newly colorized and super-durable CORDURA in backpack applications, before many other brands like Manhattan Portage followed suit shortly thereafter, and the fabric revolution took root in civilian life.

The modern CORDURA name is actually the umbrella title for a broad family of nylon-woven fabrics, and is not limited to a specific denier (the linear density of a group of fibers when woven together), or even a specific fabric blend. The applications of those blends might range from feathery light, high-tenacity nylons (usually between 30 and 100D) in North Face hiker daypacks, to super-burly 1000D reinforcement in Outdoor Research climbing gaiters. Protective motorcycle gear from brands like Dainese also depend on utilizing a versatile blend of the CORDURA fabrics in conjunction with each other. Building pants or jackets around a range of different fabrics ensures maximum abrasion resistance and road-rash prevention in the event of a crash, while still providing a protective garment that is stylish, comfortable, and still gives its wearer a full range of movement while on the bike. CORDURA also enjoys applications even in horology, with practical ballistic nylon NATO straps, or more esoteric offerings as seen here, injecting a clear understanding of known durability in the watch band of a chic Jaeger-LeCoultre timepiece. Other fabric blends in the CORDURA family range from the classic and bomber military-spec ballistic blend, to even practical denim blends for casual, durable wearability. Still, the uses most commonly recognized off the mountain are those associated with luggage or portaging applications where prolonged durability is paramount.

Like GORE-TEX – a name quickly associated with weather protection, CORDURA has set the standard for synthetic fabric, against which all other fabrics are measured against for durability in a wide range of applications. The street-savvy and brand-conscious Japanese market is quick to take advantage of this association, creating products that appeal to the end-consumer who appreciates the marriage of practical quality and high fashion. Brands like nanamica, ballistics, and SAGLIFE have all built their respective brands, and reputation of bomb-proof bags around the massive brand power that CORDURA commands. But no brand understands this better, than Tokyo’s very own BAPE, who never fails to implement a number of pieces that cleverly incorporates CORDURA into every season’s line, bolstering exclusivity and selling ability. One such recent example, is the CORDURA YANK STA shoe, which combines the clean BAPE lines, and casual vulcanized profile of a street shoe, with the legendary durability immediately associated with CORDURA. Other footwear brands like Ransom and adidas have also collaborated to produce limited-edition CORDURA selections with great success.

Foot-by-square-foot, nowhere else is CORDURA as prevalent on the street, as it is in the realm of cycling-oriented products. And who better to understand those rigors of daily wear and tear than a bicycle messenger? The roots and influence of bicycle messenger culture still resonate strongly in the worldwide cycling community, so it’s of little surprise that CORDURA’s burly military-spec is the fabric of choice for those whose livelihoods depend on what they can carry on their backs. San Francisco-based Chrome Bags (http://www.chromebagsstore.com/) is among those who lead the way as the unofficial purveyor of messenger gear and culture, insisting on using 1050D ballistic CORDURA on all their cycling shoes, and pro-level messenger bags. And from Chrome’s exemplary success in creating a durable messenger bag guaranteed for life, other San Franciscan brands like Mission Workshop with their AP Series of bags, and Timbuk2 with their Essential collection have also reiterated that critical importance of brand association, eschewing a generic nylon weave for CORDURA. Life on the bicycle is rough not only on the pack, but to the saddle contact points as well. SWRV Cycling from the United Kingdom understands this, using CORDURA Denim for their Cycling Jean to minimize seat damage, increase water resistancy, and maximize user wear life.

Like many practical inventions that were born innocuously enough from the needs of a combat theater, the widespread application of CORDURA has pushed it beyond a mere brand name or collaborative selling point. It is a true military invention that changed the world. From every corner of the earth, its use is now limited only by the imagination of those looking to push their very boundaries of survival.

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