DuPont Corfam – The leather substitute
In the mid 1960s, chemical giant DuPont invested millions of pounds in the promotion of Corfam, a synthetic substitute for leather. In the late 1930s researchers at DuPont had discovered a way to make a poromeric imitation leather and had experimented with its possible uses.
One of the most obvious uses was for footwear. Demographic trends were starting to indicate that the global population was increasing at such a rate that there would soon be a demand for footwear from non-animal sources.
DuPont therefore believed the world would welcome the arrival of their hardwearing, breathable patent leather look moisture proof leather material; in fact when the product made its public appearance at the Chicago Shoe Show in the autumn of 1963, it was met with enthusiasm. Corfam was the centrepiece of the DuPont pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in New York City
Its major advantages over natural leather were its durability and its high gloss finish that could be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. Its disadvantages were its stiffness which did not lessen with wearing, its relative lack of breathability, and easy confusion with non-breathable cheaper products
The company had predicted that by 1984, a quarter of all US shoes would be made from Corfam, but to do that it would first need to carve a niche for itself. If Corfam was to become the new product for shoes, it would need to be used by the manufacturers of women’s shoes.
It soon became clear, however, that the female shoe market was itself divided between comfy, everyday shoes and ‘fashion’ shoes made for special occasions.
For all Corfam’s strengths, it was not as flexible or leather like as ordinary leather, and therefore was not suited for those shoes designed for comfort or everyday use and so they went down the route of the fashion shoe.
What DuPont failed to consider was that a synthetic material called polyvinyl chloride (now known to us as PVC) was fast becoming popular owing to its low manufacturing cost.
Vinyl shoes, which could be coloured or embossed very easily, were perfect for women looking for a pair which may be worn once or twice at special occasions before being set aside, furthermore, the leather industry was keen to dampen the appeal of Corfam by lowering its prices and improving quality. This factor, combined with the growing popularity of vinyl shoes, led to DuPont’s announcement in March 1971 that they were to withdraw Corfam and to being referred to on 11th April 1971 by the New York Time as ‘Du Pont’s $100 million Edsel.’ after which DuPont sold the rights to the product to Poland
Corfam is still used today in some products, an example being certain types of equestrian saddle girth. Corfam shoes are still popular in uniformed professions where shiny shoes are desirable.
Vintage Girl Nicole