Born in Berkeley in 1968, The North Face at first was a single store selling other brands — no official in-house label existed. Eventually that would change, and by the 1980s The North Face was less of an independent retailer and instead a label of its own, a legendary one at that, becoming an outfitter of choice for expeditions worldwide.
There’s just one problem: It doesn’t matter if you’re Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, or The North Face, you’re not going to sell very much if you’re only focused on the very few buyers who take serious expeditions each year.
So The North Face, as everyone knows, has made its bread and butter selling to the masses who will never hit terrain more challenging than an in-bounds double-diamond. And brand managers there will readily tell you that this is the same recipe that’s always worked, that some degree of fashion is key now, just as it was a few generations back.
And what’s hot today and has been for a few years is vintage-looking retro/expedition/workwear, and The North Face actually has some heritage to harness in this regard. If anything, with the Carhartts of the world filling cotton duck bomber jackets with down, the obvious question is what took The North Face so long to launch the Mountain Heritage line. We caught up with TNF’s Mountain Heritage Product Director Sumi Reddy to learn more, who said, “Heritage is on a trend and it’s brought us back to looking within company history for inspiration. We’ve dabbled with cotton and with heritage in the past but it is a challenge. We’re a forward-looking company and we’ve always had the technology of outwear and protection driving us, so looking backward to inspire the future is a change.”
And down-filled cotton isn’t the latest technology.
No, but we’re looking at what youthful customers are wearing at places like the Teva Mountain Games, or if you look at the surf community or boulderers and climbers. They’re not always looking for tech attributes.
So this is The North Face making clothing that’s not for sweating in?
It’s the fashion sense of someone in a Boulder and outfitting that person for their daily life. You can still make it functional, durable. Look at the Cordova Pant. You can climb in them. It’s not a super skinny fit. It has a surplus or military look. We’re still adding triple needle stitching and gussets for durability.
The clothing is cool, but don’t you have to be careful not to tread too far away from the brand lineage?
The response has been hugely positive, so I don’t think that’s a danger. And you’ll see more cotton-nylon canvases used in 2013 with DWR finishes, so it’s even truer to the fabrics we used in the 1970s.
And the fashion side is decidedly 1970s. There are a lot of plaids and earth tones.
Plaids are a real art form; you have to get the variation in scale and color so it works in several different palettes and so that you have some that are trendy and some that are safer for that traditional customer.
Isn’t there a risk of having this stuff get lost in the shuffle?
If you see the line at a North Face retail store you’ll see that it all fits together. That’s where it’s really working, when you see it as part of our history and a collection, not just a flannel shirt in with Gore-Tex jackets.