The History of The North Face

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A leading brand in the realms of performance clothing, footwear, and equipment; the North Face has a longstanding relationship with adventure seekers. But where did it all start? Let's take a look at the history of The North Face.

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Supposedly named after the north face of a mountain which is usually the most resilient and challenging of a mountains possible accent routes; the North Face, as a company, couldn't relate more to this analogy of a tough climb to the top. Having faced teething difficulties in its earlier years, The North Face has maintained its market share through the years against all the odds (of which there were a lot.) But how did it all start? Where did it all start?

Read on for the complete history of The North Face.

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The History of The North Face

1965 - 1980

With something as niche as extreme outdoor clothing, it makes sense that those who create such pieces know a great deal about extreme outdoor sporting themselves. This was the case with iconic outerwear brand, The North Face. Founded in 1966 by a couple of friends in San Francisco's north beach neighbourhood, they initially only designed premium backpacking and climbing equipment.

The quality and suitability of their products to outdoor sporting made them incredibly popular among enthusiasts which naturally led to wholesale and manufacturing by 1968, and eventually outerwear by the early 1970s. With research and innovation always at the forefront of the brand's remit; in 1975 they revolutionized the outdoor equipment industry with a geodesic dome tent.

The innovative design quickly became an industry standard among recreational campers and professionals alike - being used for both high altitude and polar expeditions. Just like the innovative tents by the brand, when The North Face introduced their synthetically insulated sleeping bags they quickly become widely used as a standard benchmark in the industry.

PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face
PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face

1980 - 1990

By the time the eighties had rolled around, The North Face was an established company in both commercial and professional markets. Due to their popularity as the brand of choice for skiing, they launched their extreme skiwear in the early 1980s followed by the expedition system in 1988 - their new line comprised of severe cold weather clothing with integrated components for suitability in various situations.

Due to continued endorsement from several world-class adventurers and mountain climbers, by the end of the 1980s - The North Face was the only manufacturer / distributor in the United States who were offering a vast line of premium, high-performance clothing, and equipment for outdoor activities.

the north face look
Shop The Look: The North Face - Jackets | The North Face - Hats

While the brand seemed to be on the up and up, some questionable decisions were made during their exponential growth period in the 1980s. Attempting to take control of the entire manufacturing process, The North Face started producing all their own goods which led to problems with stock control, over-ordering, and late delivery of products.

Alongside this, The North Face started opened outlet stores which sold lower priced goods and materials from the company. This confused customers as the company had previously been associated with high-end, quality made wares. Eventually, the company shut all of its outlet stores down and wrote the concept off. A few years later, In 1988, The North Face was acquired by Odyssey Holdings (OHI) who already owned over thirty other companies in the outdoor and apparel industry.

PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face
PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face

1990 - Present

In the early nineties, big changes were afoot at an executive level in The North Face. Marsden S. Cason was recruited as Director of The North Face and executive officer of OHI as well as a slew of new experienced executives and operating managers hired to focus on sales, gross margin, closing discount stores and discontinuing tired product lines. The measures implemented were initially successful as The North Face began to see profit again - however, by 1993 OHI had filed for bankruptcy.

Regardless of this, The North Face continued operating at a loss through 1994 with the promising results of their executive reshuffle spurring them on. Come June, the company was acquired by J. H. Whitney & Co., Cason, and William S. McFarlane at public auction for $62 million, alongside this, Cason was appointed CEO of newly renamed 'The North Face Inc.'

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Shop The Look: The North Face - Jackets

As the nineties continued, and the public desire for quality, fashionable apparel grew - the North Face wanted a slice of the lucrative cake. Understanding that there were restrictions with the amount of customers such a niche industry could garner, The North Face began stocking their products in 'summit shops'. Although it was quite a step away from their traditional territories - it proved to be a relatively lucrative one.

In their search for new revenue streams, The North Face began to push their casual wear as well as seeking out government contracts with the U.S Marine Corps - with whom they had a longstanding relationship. Fundamentally, these two alternate revenue streams partnered with an increased push for new and innovative products assisted in steadying the financially rocky ship.

By the middle of the 1990s, the North Face were overcoming their financial problems fighting off competition from aesthetically similar newcomer Patagonia - managing to maintain their market share. This, alongside a strong executive team, has pushed the brand comfortably into the 21st century and to being one of the most recognizable casual, adventure and camping equipment brands in the world.

PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face
PHOTO CREDIT: The North Face

Get The Look: The North Face

As one of the most versatile outerwear brands, it's not as if we really need to walk you through the sartorial guidelines of how to wear a North Face jacket. But if you're looking for a bit of instant inspo, the look below is a quick, easy getup that most can replicate easily!

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Shop The Look: The North Face - Jackets | Nudie - Jeans | Converse - Trainers | Only & Sons - T-Shirts

Your Quick Guide to The History of The North Face

  • The North Face was founded in 1966 by a couple of friends in San Francisco's north beach neighbourhood.
  • The quality of North Face's clothing made incredibly popular among enthusiasts which naturally led to wholesale and manufacturing by 1968, and eventually outerwear by the early 1970s.
  • Due to their popularity as the brand of choice for skiing, they launched their extreme skiwear in the early 1980s followed by the expedition system line in 1988.
  • In 1988, The North Face was acquired by Odyssey Holdings (OHI) who already owned over thirty other companies in the outdoor and apparel industry.
  • Come June 1994, the company was acquired by J. H. Whitney & Co., Cason, and William S. McFarlane at public auction for $62 million, alongside this, Cason was appointed CEO of newly renamed 'The North Face Inc.'

Conclusion

That's your lot! As with all heritage brands, the North Face's ascent to the realms of manufacturing mega-giant has been an arduous one, to say the least. Whether it's kitting out the polar expeditions, suiting up Everest's daring challengers or subduing their adventurously enhanced gear for casual, everyday usage - The North Face are a brand produce products that excel in every aspect of their vast field. Looing to pick yourself up an investment piece? Head on over to The North Face's brand page to shop the collection!

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