With “The GORE-TEX Brand's Ever-Lasting Influence: A Celebration of an Outerwear Icon”, END. takes a look back at the iconic fabric throughout the years, showcasing why it stands as one of the cornerstones of technical outerwear.
The GORE-TEX brand name is something that now exists beyond the mere physical; mentioning the word acts like a stamp of approval — a metaphorical guarantee that the piece in question will perform to the highest possible standards. The shockwaves caused by the fabric over the years have extended beyond performance, with GORE-TEX products being featured on runways, used in collaboration with coveted fashion houses and even making an appearance in popular sitcoms.
With “The GORE-TEX brand's Ever-Lasting Influence”, END. takes a look at the iconic material from its inception to current times, showcasing why it continues to be one of the most widely-used materials in the fashion sphere.
Gore was founded in 1958 by Bill and Vieve Gore in the basement of their home in Newark, Delaware. At the time, the company focused its attention on the electronic products market, though a chance discovery 11 years later would broaden the Gore brand focus — and change the world of fabrics — in the process. That discovery was made by Bill and Vieve’s son, Bob Gore; upon rapidly stretching PTFE — or Teflon, as it’s more commonly known — Bob had created ePTFE: a strong, microporous material with pores that were not only 20,000 time smaller than a water droplet, but 700 times larger than vapour molecules — making it super breathable and fully waterproof. In 1976, following a successful patent application made six years prior, a small, Seattle-based company named Early Winters made the first commercial order for GORE-TEX products, utilising the fabric’s membrane to create tents and jackets designed for protection while exploring. Once the word had spread about GORE-TEX products, Early Winters quickly saw an influx of orders, marking just the beginning of the GORE-TEX brand's influence in the outerwear sphere.
Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the GORE-TEX brand had grown from relative obscurity to a household name, partly down to the way the material performed, but also due to its employment in an array of monumental milestones — both in terms of the fabric itself and exploration in a wider sense.
The first occurred in 1978, when Heinrich Flik — one of the original team members who worked on the development of GORE-TEX products in Delaware — had a chance encounter with legendary mountaineer and explorer, Reinhold Messner, in a sports store meet and greet in Munich. Flik was the head of a small company looking to find a market for the recently-invented GORE-TEX membrane, and, following an invitation from the store owner, took the opportunity to bring the material along and demonstrate its capabilities to Messner. Messner, after witnessing its potential, was impressed, and quickly put in an order for a tent to be used on an upcoming project: his history-making ascent of Everest. This marked the first use for GORE-TEX products in outdoor exploration, something which would eventually become a core application for the material.
In 1981, the Gore brand assisted with NASA’s inaugural space shuttle mission, Space Shuttle Columbia. Astronauts wore spacesuits made with the GORE-TEX membrane woven into their outer layers, though this was a different construction of membrane to that found in a consumer product. This wasn’t the first time the company had assisted NASA with space exploration, with Gore providing wiring and cable solutions to the organisation since its inception. In many ways, this represented the true capabilities of GORE-TEX products; not only could they perform in the most challenging and unforgiving climates on earth, but, with some modifications, they were also capable of performing in outer space: proof, if ever it was needed, of the performance technology underpinning GORE-TEX products.
By the time 1989 came around, the GORE-TEX brand name had really begun to gather momentum, making it the natural choice for explorers travelling to the extremities of earth. That year, an international expedition team led by Will Steger, comprised of six individuals and 42 sled dogs, set about on a 220-day-long trek across Antarctica, with the overarching aim of raising attention to the early signs of climate change. The clothing provided was bespoke Trans-Antarctica jackets developed in partnership with The North Face, allowing explorers to withstand the harsh, -47 °C temperatures they would face.
Bob Gore, being the steadfast innovator that he was, refused to see his initial creation as the GORE-TEX membrane's final form. Far from it, with 1980 and ’82 marking an expansion in the GORE-TEX product line-up, with the range broadening to cover both gloves and footwear in those years, respectively. It didn’t stop there, either, with a slew of material variations arriving thereafter; GORE-TEX PACLITE® — meaning lighter and packable — came in 1998, high-strength Pro in 2006 and breathable, water resistant and wind-protective GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ in 2018, to name just a few. The GORE-TEX brand was also keen to show continuous improvement and to offer peace of mind to consumers, introducing the GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY™ promise in 1989 — meaning if there were any technical defects, or customers weren’t happy with the product, the GORE-TEX brand would replace the item, repair it or refund the initial cost.
Since its first use in outdoor circles in the late ‘70s, the GORE-TEX brand has been a pillar of the outerwear community — a go-to for lovers of exploration, performance and outdoor activities. In latter years, however, the GORE-TEX brand has become far more ubiquitous, representing a cornerstone in another branch of outerwear: Gorpcore. Gorpcore — an acronym of “Good old raisins and peanuts”, alluding to outdoor enthusiasts’ love of trail mix — represents a re-contextualisation of outerwear, with elements of technical garb spilling out into the wider fashion circle.
An example which perfectly summarised GORE-TEX brand's — and, indeed, the wider Gorpcore trend’s — ubiquity occurred in 2020; that year, the late Virgil Abloh sent models down the runway dressed in a part-Arc’teryx jacket, part-dress combination, as part of Off-White’s SS20 collection. This coincided with the rise of Arc’teryx beyond its origins as performance outerwear, with the label becoming a favourite amongst high fashion and streetwear circles. Admittedly, GORE-TEX had been employed in streetwear collections years prior to this, but this moment really drove home just how intertwined outerwear, streetwear and high fashion had become.
In 2021, this approach was taken one step further; after being teased for the best part of a year, Arc’teryx and Jil Sander+ released their collaborative collection, representing the first time the two had joined forces. Though it did fall under the umbrella of Jil Sander + — a line centred around performance and outerwear — it still marked the colliding of two worlds that, despite now being heavily immersed, would’ve been considered at opposite ends of the spectrum decades prior. The collection consisted of technical pieces geared toward use in extreme weather conditions — drawing upon Lucie and Luke Meier’s experience in skiing and mountaineering — with three jackets, a pair of trousers and an overall suit. Each piece was constructed using GORE-TEX PRO, ensuring durability and protection during unforgiving climates. What the above represented was that the GORE-TEX brand name had truly achieved ubiquity, becoming an integral part of, not an additional component, in just about every element in the wider fashion sphere.