Berkeley Backpacking Biz - Old School, New School, No School

Let Me See That: Cordura Gets Discovered by Henry Gruchacz

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Al Tabor: Ok so Cordura. We've got to hit Cordura before everyone totally runs out of steam.

Henry Gruchaz: It was really interesting because Bob always had this love of the canvas,  [??] stuff. He always loved that. The fabric we were using was very light and not very interesting, but it was synthetic. I was running the production and my big thing was buying the fabric because that was the key to production. Howe and Bainbridge is a company that's was from Boston and they were famous for the spinnakers. They made the light weight ripstop…and that's how we got into the light-weight ripstop was through Howe and Bainbridge.

Howe and Bainbridge was run by a guy…Mr. Howe and Mr. Bainbridge were still alive but the company was run by a guy named Jake Brown. Jake used to do the circuit of the outdoor people on the West Coast. And he started breaking in this young guy from Connecticut. His name is Chuck Bush. Chuck was a neophyte, basically, and Jake was fast-talking and real smart guy, totally in control. He was working with me and kind of mentoring Chuck into the job.

I was sitting there and they had a briefcase which had a lot of samples. And Chuck grabs this sample and Jake grabbed it out of his hand and [noises] and they had had a little spat!

Al: Whether you should see this?

Henry: Yeah, whether I should see it. And so I said, goddammit, I want to see that!

So they brought it up. It was blue Cordura… And Jake said we developed this for the shoe industry…because Boston and St. Louis had the big shoemakers. It was for the canvas type of boat shoes.

Al: Topsiders?

Henry: Yeah, Topsiders. And what it was, was a nylon product which had all of the capabilities that you wanted and it, also, had a really beautiful look to it.

The reason why Jake got crazy is that they were working on the problem that they had with dying it. Dying was…what it would do is streak and I remember we used to buy all the Cordura seconds. They had big streaks in them and we used to use them for the stuff sacks.

Well, I saw that and I said to myself, “Holy shit, this is really something for packs!” And I knew Bob [Swanson] would like it, so I just grabbed it and I went over to Bob and said Bob look at this!

We liked it too because it wasn't even. It didn’t have an even color to it. Well unfortunately they developed it so it had an even color. And it looked more like nylon than canvas but at the time we spotted it, it looked like canvas so we immediately put into our packs. And it was a fluke, because Jake was never going to show it to us and Chuck Bush kind of, was bringing it out.

Al: So, he didn't want to show it because it would waste your time? Was that?

Henry: Well so they were developing it. It wasn't really ready where they could guarantee the color and so sometimes it would shade across. That was beautiful for us really. We liked that.

And this was before North Face started getting exclusives, like the exclusives on the [??]. And so we never thought of it. We could have that exclusive for about 2 years maybe.

Al: Okay!

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Story Copyright
08/16/17