MAEKAN & BYBORRE —
Redefining Comfort: Bernhard Chemnitz
Interview & Photos by Eugene Kan
Video by Ralph Sarmo
Interview & Photos by Eugene Kan
Video by Ralph Sarmo
Comfort. It’s something essential to our lives.
The degree of comfort we experience can impact how we view the world around us. Comfort can take shape in a practical sense. Are we dry? Are we able to move freely? Are we confident with how we look?
Comfort can also apply psychologically. Are we comfortable with the challenge ahead and the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next?
In abundance, some would say too much of it creates complacency. Too little of it, and you’re unable to settle into a rhythm, because you’re only focused on reducing the discomfort.
For Men’s Fashion Week 2019 this past January MAEKAN and the BYBORRE team partnered on a series of conversations with new and old friends on this concept of “Redefining Comfort.” Our conversations were candid and casual with a special interest around the inspirations of pioneers and creators who are looking to put their stamp on the world.
In our second episode, we speak with GORE-TEX veteran Bernhard Chemnitz. He talks about the brand’s explorations beyond textiles, the evolving definition of comfort as it combines elements of both functionality and aesthetic, and the creative risks he took working with Acronym’s Errolson Hugh two decades ago.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to WeTransfer, GORE-TEX, Woolmark, and the whole BYBORRE team for making this series happen.
At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.
Eugene: How often do you get interviewed?
Bernhard: Never before.
Eugene: Really? Never. Today’s your lucky day, today you get interviewed. So actually prior to this conversation, I sat down with Borre and went through a list of people and he was like, “oh, these are really interesting people that I think would have great insight,” and naturally, your name came up. He’s like, “yeah. you definitely have to talk to this guy.” So for people that don’t know who you are, can you introduce yourself and what you do?
Bernhard: My name is Bernhard, Bernhard Chemnitz. I’m a guy working for Gore now since 27 years.
Eugene: 27 years?
Bernhard: Yeah, I was always creating new products, new markets, trying to get together with the right brand partners, developing new stuff.
Eugene: On a day-to-day, what does your job look like? Who are you working with? How are you working with people?
Bernhard: So if we decided to go into a certain market, to find the right partners to work with to make our unique products into something which is also unique. So to find the right brand partners, to talk to them, we license our partners and then I help and support these guys to create the best stuff for the label.
Eugene: So obviously, you’ve been around for almost three decades. How do you think that that process has changed since you first started in terms of finding brand partners, making sure that you guys are innovating and what not?
Bernhard: Time changes a lot. What is totally different is that there are much more brands out there which have really unique ideas. BYBORRE for example, it’s very unique, what they are doing. In former times, we worked with traditional existing brands. And usually we have been looking for these to help create a market for us and with us. This changed a lot because now we are looking into brands which are creating something which is totally different to what we have seen before and we try to support this with unique product.
Eugene: Why do you think that change happened where you guys started to re-imagine how to work with brands?
Bernhard: I think that because we are now in a totally global world, I would say. Before it was very very traditional and regional oriented and this changed a lot to global markets, to global brands. Understanding how to create things for a global customer.
Eugene: So now that you look at the overall landscape and you’re working with different brands of all different types, and you mention there a lot of interesting brands are doing things that have never been done before. How do you see the way people are attacking and looking at problems now versus in the past? Now that obviously, Gore has had quite the history working more in the fashion context and this BYBORRE collaboration that you guys have done for two seasons now is also very much rooted in fashion. How does that conversation change from a pure performance relationship versus something that has performance and lifestyle?
Bernhard: So before we have been just looking into technical stuff, into what is the best abrasion resistance, what is the highest visibility and so on. We’re still talking about these because we still think it’s important, but we’re trying to transform it and to translate it into something which meets also the style. I think it’s important to know and to mention that we are still looking in functionality because we believe this is really important, but we would like to make it look stylish as well so that people love to wear it and make their best piece.
Eugene: Can you maybe list off some of the people that you’ve worked with that you’ve found particularly interesting ideas emerge?
Bernhard: I would say even brands like Haglöfs. It’s a typical traditional mountain brand and here it changed already that they try to reach out to to get to to get more stylish. I’m taking care of adidas for example and adidas is another good example because back in the ’90s, they were only looking for functionality. Today, I’m working with adidas Originals or with Y-3 and they are taking care of, still, the functionality, but they change it into much more style. So these are some examples.
Eugene: How do you see brands tackle problems differently? So for example, I think at the root GORE-TEX has traditionally been known as a textile that protects people. But when you take that and you start imposing it into different brands with different visions and different goals, how does that change how GORE-TEX is utilized? So BYBORRE’s integration of GORE-TEX might be different than adidas or Haglöfs for example, or is it similar?
Bernhard: Both I would say, so what BYBORRE is doing with the new coat is very similar to what we did in the past, but what they do with the hybrids is totally different. So this never happened before because we weren’t able to open this to the market and we changed here a lot to make this possible.
Eugene: So over the course of your time at GORE-TEX, what are the things that you’ve kind of looked back on and thoughts are the most memorable moments that you’ve been part of?
Bernhard: What I’m really proud of happened around 20 years ago when I came together with Errolson Hugh from ACRONYM and we both sat together and we had a crazy idea and I needed to convince a lot of people to get together in making something special and what we see today is just that we see that he changed together with us a little bit over the lifestyle road I would say, and this is what I’m very proud of.
Eugene: One thing that we’ve been trying to identify or at least have a better understanding of is just this concept of “Redefining Comfort.” So what that means is I think you can look at it from a very practical sort of comfort is being dry, being comfortable. How do you see that from a more philosophical standpoint of like comfort in ideas versus pushing yourself to be uncomfortable and try new things?
Bernhard: So I think in the past when we’ve talked about comfort, we’ve mainly talked about visibility and not getting wet, I think today it’s much more. A big part of comfort for me is feeling good in your piece and “feel good in your piece” means you also “look good in your piece.” This is the main part and we never thought about this in the past. I think it’s changed a lot.
A big part of comfort for me is feeling good in your piece and feeling good in your piece means you also look good in your piece. This is the main part and we never thought about this in the past. I think it's changed a lot.
Eugene: What do you think pushed that change? You’ve been part of the company, you mentioned 27 years. Why do you think that it’s only more recently that fashion and Gore have emerged at the forefront and you see more and more high-fashion designers or fashion people utilizing it? I guess that’s what I’m always interested in is understanding at what point did it flip over and people started to embrace and prioritize this element?
Bernhard: I think I see it from two sides. The first thing and why a lot of brands today are interested in us is because a lot of people have recognized that you can trust our brand. So it really works. And then the next step is really how to make this from a pure technical piece, make it a piece which is not only technical but also looks good.
Eugene: What’s the general thought process behind innovation internally for you guys? Like how do you approach it? Is it driven by challenges? Is it driven by consumer interest? Who sets the precedent for where innovation should go?
Bernhard: That’s a good question. Innovation for us means it must be unique, it must add something which was not there before. It could be that you’re going back to the roots, using less materials for example but reaching the same level of functionality. This is also innovation and this is what we’re looking for. Sometimes to be honest, because we are a company in fields like medical, electronic, industrial products, we just find a product by chance which could fit also into the textile industry. This is what also creates innovation.
Eugene: Can you give me an example? I find that really interesting when you have cross-industry pollination between ideas because a bunch of fashion people sitting around the table trying to solve a fashion problem can be a little bit near-sighted in terms of what you have access to. But when you start pulling people from whether it’s biology or it’s as you mentioned like healthcare, how did how does that unlock the possibilities?
Bernhard: We have to be aware that GORE-TEX the brand only exists in textiles, so everything else that we are doing in the medical world and the industrial world we are talking about Gore technologies but GORE-TEX is non-existent, so GORE-TEX is a textile, footwear brand and nothing else. From time to time, we try to integrate other ideas or other technologies into this textile world. So it could be that, for example, a lot of people are talking about wearables. For us it could mean that wearables don’t only mean adding something on top of something, but integrating it into textiles, for example. This is exactly where we could fit them. This is where we try to experiment and find new ways.
Eugene: And when you find a partner like BYBORRE and you guys work together, what are sort of learning opportunities that you personally are able to experience? What are you learning by working with Borre and what do you think he’s learning from you guys?
Bernhard: So I learned a lot about how are they attack the textile world, so what they are doing with their 3D knitting, how they translate it into pieces which are comfortable. What we added to this is thinking further about the fact that in some areas you need much more protection and perhaps we could combine it and this is exactly where we came together, to build these kind of hybrids.
Eugene: What are things that continue to sustain your passion? What are the things that you’re still excited about after all these years?
Bernhard: I’m still excited about seeing brands which seem to be crazy and doing really crazy stuff coming to us and feel that there’s more than just making something crazy but making it work and feel comfortable.
When I joined Gore in 1992, Gore was quite new for me at least and the market but I owned already two pieces using Gore-Tex and I loved these pieces so this made me curious and I thought about doing new stuff, they gave me a lot of power to join Gore.
Eugene: For you to consider that you did a good job on a project, what does that mean? What is your role in making something successful? How do you determine if this was something that worked out or this didn’t work out?
Bernhard: Last night I was together with Samuel and he showed me the final pieces in the BYBORRE showroom. When I see the pieces how they are translated into this collection, this really makes me feel that I was a part of something successful.
Eugene: And then when you look at failure though, not necessarily in a commercial sense but more like something that didn’t work out or does it just become a chance of learning to fix it and derive more learnings to make a better product? How do you look at that?
Bernhard: Of course we have failures but with failures you can learn a lot and I think you have to fail to be better at a certain point, it depends on how you define what is a failure exactly.
Eugene: How do you define it? Maybe that’s a better question?
Bernhard: So for me, if I go out and I think I have the best and the most unique product in my hands and I go out to BYBORRE and they just say it’s great what you are telling us but for us this is a boring story. This for me is a failure. Usually I think I have a good feeling to present something that could be and should be interesting perhaps but it’s not always like this. And this for me is a failure.
Eugene: What do you think are the main drivers of innovation in your space? Is it the devlopment of machines? Is it partners that are pushing you guys? How do you see where we are today versus tomorrow and what’s going to be the biggest determinant of how fast we get there?
Bernhard: Yeah, for us as we are a very technical and product-driven company for us, of course, it’s creating new technologies. This is in the forefront. But for me, innovation means as well to create stuff in a totally new market segment where we have never been before. This for me is also innovation. If you see pieces you never thought about before. So you have never seen before a GORE-TEX you can wear on the skin for example or just as a shirt. Today it’s possible to do so and this is for me innovation because 20-30 years ago everybody just talked about the very technical jacket. So this changed the world.
Eugene: Twenty years ago, you were towards the the earlier stage of your career, right? How do you look at maybe people that come into GORE-TEX now and they might have similar ideas, like similar crazy aspirations…
Bernhard: I think even younger people, we are communicating a lot and I still feel that what I’m doing today, what I did in the past is very similar. I don’t have to change a lot because I still feel like I have a lot of ideas that I can bring this together.
Eugene: I mean it’s interesting in terms of ACRONYM and Errolson, it feels as though the company and the brand have been around for a while, but it’s more recently that it’s sort of blown up and become much more a part of the mainstream consciousness of fashion and culture. How do you think that the brand or from your perspective, when you look at the innovations and the mindsets that they’ve instilled within you, was it really a matter of it taking time for people to understand it because it was so far advanced? And is that a challenge you go through where big ideas sometimes just take time to be adopted?
Bernhard: I definitely can agree on this.
Eugene: If there are certain people out there that can see the future, is it helpful to allow them to communicate better or to have more people understand it quicker or sometimes you just let an idea run its course and maybe it takes 15 years for people to understand it? I think that’s like more of a philosophical question.
Bernhard: Yeah. Perhaps we have to split that into what Gore would do, what I personally would do, I personally would take more of a risk and let them go and do things. Sometimes it’s not so easy putting it together because, especially at Gore there are a lot of high standards that you have to meet and the question is how much risk you can take not to get into disturbing the brand or whatever. So this is a little bit of a borderline perhaps.
Eugene: How do you see different cultures, different backgrounds, whether it’s the Asian market, the European market, the American market, how do you balance the requirements, the needs, and the way there’s a certain working culture behind each type of person? Does that actually factor in?
Bernhard: It does factor in, definitely. So that’s why we decided that not one person should do everything globally and try to cover everything. So this is why we are working really as a team and consulting each other and trying to get the best for our brand and for the markets to play together in a team.
Eugene: Before joining Gore what did you think it’d be like and what has been the reality of working with Gore?
Bernhard: When I joined Gore in 1992, Gore was quite new for me at least and the market but I owned already two pieces using Gore-Tex and I loved these pieces so this made me curious and I thought about doing new stuff, they gave me a lot of power to join Gore.
Eugene: Back in 1992, that was at a time when you already felt that as a product it was definitely innovative and may be best in class or what not. When you look at the product that you had then versus the product you have now how do you look at them in terms of performance? Or do you actually get nostalgic like this was at its time the most innovative and it’s not necessarily an inferior product it’s just that based on the progression of innovation it was a moment in time?
Bernhard: The piece I owned in the early 90s and I paid more than 500 Deutschmarks which was a lot for me but I love it, It’s a really great and innovative product from the beginning.
Eugene: Do you still have that piece?
Bernhard: I don’t have it, I crashed it. It was destroyed so sorry for that, I would be happy to have it today to be honest.
Eugene: Ah, that’s too bad.
Innovation for us means it must be unique, it must add something which was not there before. It could be that you're going back to the roots, using less materials for example but reaching the same level of functionality. This is also innovation and this is what we're looking for.
Check out the rest of our Redefining Comfort series:
Part 1: Rebecca Kelley