What is Durabuck?

[Originally posted on NikeTalk by Sean Collard]

Okay, I am going to risk getting cyber “yelled at” and ridiculed but this is simply an attempt to add to this age-old conversation regarding Air Jordan materials. I will specifically be talking about the material called Durabuck. I apologize for this being a long post, but it needs to be. If you don’t want to read it, don’t.

I would like to preface this by saying that I do not claim to be an expert by any means. I have been discussing this topic with a couple of my peers (35+ crowd, I’m 41) and decided to try to find as much information on Durabuck as I possibly could because there seems to be a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there. The following is simply what I found in my search and is not meant to argue with anyone who has posted differing information.

First of all, when you simply Google “Durabuck” all that comes up are discussions in sneaker forums. I could not find any actual information on what exactly Durabuck is. Contrary to what has been posted previously, Wikipedia has absolutely no information about Durabuck. So, I am not sure where the claim that Durabuck is some sort of nubuck/polyurethane mix came from. There is no information on the Internet that I can find that backs that claim. If someone can find some proof of that, please share. I would love to read it. PS: going and creating a “Durabuck” page on Wikipedia will not count as evidence.

However, I found evidence that describes Durabuck as a synthetic leather used by Nike in the early 90’s. Synthetic meaning artificial and not real leather in any way. Durabuck is described as a synthetic leather in this article on the history of the Nike Air Maestro from Nike.com. Here’s a quote from the article:

“An exoskeleton design with form-fitting inner bootie, Nike Air cushioning, an ankle strap and a galactic-inspired traction pattern were refined in the design review. But there was still something missing. Teague decided to defy convention and shed weight with a synthetic leather called Durabuck. This was a pivotal change — marking one of the brand’s first synthetic leather basketball shoes at a time when full-grain leather was the norm. The new Durabuck material and sock-like inner bootie provided a breathable and comfortable alternative.”

Here is a link to the article on Nike.com.
Another thing that stuck in my mind over the years was that I remember “Durabuck” having a TM or a trademark symbol next to it when I saw it on an official Nike product description. I couldn’t remember where, so I checked the tech booklet/mini catalogue that came with my OG 6’s, but the word/name Durabuck was not there. I still have my black/red OG 4’s, but lost the box years ago, so I couldn’t check there. Then I remembered where I saw it. It was on a picture of a 1991 Nike product catalogue that lists the upcoming Jordan models (Jordan 6), the colorways that will release, and the main materials used on each. Note, next to the black/infrared, Durabuck is listed as the main material and it has the “TM” or trademark symbol.

What is Durabuck material?
So, that picture lead me on a hunt to find out who owned the trademark. This part of my search was actually discussed in a post on NT about 4 years ago, but it is important to note.

It turns out that a company called The United States Shoe Corporation patented the synthetic leather and registered the trademark “Durabuck” in 1991. Nike bought the material from them for production of their shoes. The United States Shoe Corporation’s trademark was subsequently cancelled in 1998 and they did not seek to renew it because the company actually stopped manufacturing Durabuck. Here is a link to the trademark info: http://trademarks.breanlaw.com/74176812-durabuck.html

Nike clearly still uses the name “Durabuck” to describe materials used on certain releases, however, the company that produced Durabuck stopped manufacturing it and stopped supplying Nike with it in 1998. This may explain why we have not seen any material that is identical to the OG’s on any retro that originally incorporated “Durabuck” (as manufactured by The United States Shoe Corporation) post 1998. Even the 1999 retro 4’s have a different material than the OG’s (I own both and have compared). That’s just my speculation, but it’s food for thought.

On that note, I will briefly discuss nubuck. Technically speaking, nubuck is cowhide leather that has been rubbed on the outer side of the hide to give it a feel like that of suede. Therefore, nubuck is a type of leather and is not capitalized, unlike Durabuck.

These are the facts that remain:

  • “Durabuck” was the registered trademark name of a synthetic leather. This is further evidenced by the fact that Nike, to this day, capitalizes the word “Durabuck” when it lists it as a material used on a shoe. Here’s an example from the “Barcelona Days” Retro 7 description originally on Nike.com: “Perforated leather and Durabuck upper for durability and a snug fit…” The word “Durabuck” is again capitalized, meaning it is a proper name. If it were simply a type of leather or leather hybrid of some sort, it would not be capitalized and a company could not trademark a type of leather.
  • Finally, this synthetic leather was created and the name “Durabuck” was trademarked by a company called, the United States Shoe Corporation and that company ceased production of this material in 1998. Due to the fact that no one owns the name “Durabuck” anymore, Nike is free to use the term to label material used on their shoes, when the reality is, what they are using is simply their version of a material that is no longer produced.

I don’t know how there has been so much misinformation regarding Durabuck but in the world of social media, one person’s speculation often snowballs into becoming a “fact” that is then spread through the community. Once again, I do not claim to be an expert and I could be wrong, but I think I have provided some facts regarding the history of Durabuck and I hope this adds to the conversation.

Original Air Jordan 6 from 1991 pic via Sneaker News

Original Air Jordan 6 from 1991 pic via Sneaker News

 

  • SNEAKERscholar

    Love seeing this kind of research go into an article!

  • Geoffrey Maduro

    Great information. I thought a nike exec was full of crap when he said the reason sneakers are different nowadays was due to the availability of yesteryears materials. Who knew he was actually telling the truth lol

  • pk!

    Okay but what about the retro 8s just releasing in December 2015? The materials are listed as full grain leather and Durabuck.

  • Tifosi Fratello

    I bought a pair of Air Jordan 5s in 1990. They were white with red and black. They had the translucent sections on the bottom sole with the Jordan symbol seen through it. They were made of Durabuck. That material was machine washable. I paid $125 for them and they were the best shoes I’ve ever had. I wore them for tennis, skateboarding, and flying planes. They lasted until 1998. I washed them once a month and the uppers always looked like new after washing. Durabuck is superior to leather imo.