How did a technical fabric become a brand name so recognized that it appears alongside the luxury brands dropped in rap lyrics to this day? Gore-Tex is in the rare pantheon of consumer brands that have transcended its core market to reach pop culture status - most notably, Gore-Tex is the label of choice for George Constanza in the "Dinner Party" episode of Seinfeld. The brand's combination of innovative product combined with strategic marketing is a textbook example of methods to utterly dominate the field of performance sportswear.
Gore-Tex got its start in the early 70's when inventor Bob Gore was granted a patent (U.S. Patent 3953566) for creating a process of stretching Teflon(1) to produce a thin, porous sheet. The resulting material was unlike anything that had been discovered up to that point – the pores in the textile are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, but 70,000 larger than water vapor – which makes Gore-Tex the world’s first fully waterproof, windproof and breathable fabric.
Until the beginning of the 70's, garments used for outdoor activities were made of wool, cotton, leather and silk. With wool, cotton and silk, you were able to get breathable layers that unfortunately soaked up sweat and rain. For water resistant clothes, outerwear designers used leathers and also soaked textiles with greases and waxes, but the resulting pieces had short durability and no breathability. Gore-Tex's introduction revolutionized the outerwear market as pioneering brands like Patagonia, Black Diamond, and North Face were now able to outfit alpine enthusiasts with a new generation of technical outerwear.
Throughout the 70’s, Gore-Tex became a preferred brand among the funky bearded outdoorsmen of the time. With extensive ad campaigns in magazines like Backpacker, Outdoors, & Runners World, Gore-Tex reinforced its presence as a leading brand, not just a material used by others.
They also used a heavy amount co-branding with the apparel makers to create synergistic print ads, which highlight footwear or outerwear using the material as a design feature, thus reinforcing Gore-Tex as a separate, premium brand. Check the following ad from Runners World, by CB Sports. Is it an ad for CB, gold medalist Frank Shorter, or Gore-Tex?
Or next time you find an old stack of vintage outdoors magazines, count how many times Gore-Tex is mentioned in the ads alone.
A deluge of co-branded ads, combined with print campaigns of their own which highlighted a For Us, By Us brand identity cemented Gore-Tex as the premium performance brand for the rugged wilderness set. By the mid-90's the US patent protection for Gore-Tex expired opening the way for other brand names to offer cheaper alternatives. However Gore-Tex was able remain the dominant player with up to 70% market share of the waterproof-breathable outerwear market (2).
As hinted to above in the Seinfeld clip, New York pop culture was a key factor in elevating Gore-Tex from performance to fashion status. As sportswear tends to cross over with street fashion, NYC had a perfect climate for Gore-Tex to piggy back on Hip Hop's rise to global influence.
Preceding the current advertising climate of fully integrated product placement, 1990's hip hop used brand name recognition to status and reflect their reality. On the Fugee's monumental sophmore album The Score (1996), Lauryn Hill raps:
“I must confess my destiny’s manifest to some Gore-Tex and sweats // I make tracks like i’m homeless”
While in Big L's Fall Back, Gore-Tex is aligned with luxury cars and Cartier
“I cruise in a GS Lex', Cartier specs // Nautica sweats with the fresh Gore-Tex”
In what can be interpreted as a gigantic coup for the Bob Gore's brand, one of New York's underground emcees adopted Goretex as his actual name. In 1995, the emcee known as Goretex joined childhood friend Ill Bill, DJ Eclipse and Sabac as a group named Non Phixion. How many other brands can you name that have an musician named after them?
As a trusted American heritage sportswear brand, with full bonafides NYC pop culture during the salad days of streetwear, Gore-Tex is now used globally by Japanese fashion brands like Visvim & Nanamica as well as a new batch of sportswear crossover projects like Bodega's x Asics "Get Wet" Gel Lyte V's.
(1) The fact that Gore-Tex is derived from Teflon is particularly interesting as Teflon makes numerous appearances in rap. "A fist full of bullets, a chest full of teflon"- 2Pac ft. B.I.G. - Runnin' (Dying to live) Teflon itself was used to treat bullets thereby creating low friction, bullet proof vest penetrating slugs ominously nicknamed "Cop Killers".
Teflon's non-stick applications on pans also created an interesting lane for clever wordplay usage in the untouchable gangster sense, ie. shorthand for the undeniably, unprosecutable. Teflon also happens to be the adopted monniker of one of the Ruff Ryders producers while Rick Ross has been referring to himself as the "Teflon Don" for almost half a decade - not to be confused with the memphis rapper named Teflon Don. Also worth mentioning is the fact that there are two rappers directly named Teflon(one was an M.O.P. affiliate, the other an aspiring Pittsburgh based emcee) and both were murdered in separate incidents.
These naming conventions are noteworthy in light of the rapper named Gore-Tex of NonPhixion briefly explored above.
(2) Kessler, Mike (March 7, 2012). "Gore-Tex Under Siege from Waterproof Fabric Newcomers". Outside (April 2012).
More Gore-Tex In Rap
A more modern account comes by way of Action Bronson. And man, he goes above and beyond as he doesn't simply rhyme the word but goes as far as to educate his listeners of it's functionality:
“Mister Wonderful in short-sets, Cortex // Gore-Tex the bottom of the feet in case the floor wet” - Action Bronson (Nordic Wind)
“Just for that sizzle, Gore-Tex in case of drizzle” - Action Bronson (Red Dot Music)
“Rocking fly sweats, sneakers that's Gore-Tex” - Meyhem Lauren, (Kool A.D.)
“My uniform Carhartt sweats and Gore-tex, athletic horses on my chest and on my short sets” - Action Bronson, (Cocoa Butter)
“One-two punch and the Gore-Tex drops on your toe, your brother got caught // By Gore-Tex boots from the Gore-Tex shop” - Sir Mix-A-Lot
“Avirex, Gore-Tex wet with fly jewelry” - Nas, (One Plus One)
“So sit on black GORE-TEX/Before test, we all wore vests” - Fredro Starr (Ghetto Mentalitee)
“Jail shit down to a tee, Waterproof Gore-Tex to the ski, and I’m all on ya sidewalk down to the p’s” - Max B, (What The Deal)