Abstract: All Shortcomings Have Been Eliminated: The Corfam Debacle

Robert Kanigel

Abstract

Supported by research whose roots went back to the 1930s, DuPont developed a synthetic material, Corfam, for use in shoe uppers—which for eons had been made mostly of leather. Backed by the company's marketing muscle, and basking in the reflected glow of the company's success with nylon a quarter century before, Corfam was unleashed on the market in 1963, to the consternation of America's tanners. But eight years later, DuPont abruptly halted its manufacture and Corfam went down as one of the iconic business debacles of the past half century, on a par with the Edsel and New Coke. This paper revisits this much remarked upon, yet not recently explored episode of business history. In fact, Corfam did live up to many of the technical expectations its developers had for it. But it ran hard up against the vagaries of human nature, failing to satisfy needs for comfort, tactile pleasure, and fashion variety. At the time of its introduction, the DuPont public relations department issued a scripted question-and-answer dialogue asserting on behalf of Corfam that "all shortcomings have been eliminated." They had not been.