The North Face Bets on Shoes

The North Face Bets on Shoes
A spring '13 trail running shoe from The North Face.

NEW YORK — Footwear is coming to the fore at The North Face.

The Alameda, Calif.-based outdoor brand is making the category a priority, and has backed it up by restructuring its shoe division with new executives, fresh product silos and lightweight collections that the company is supporting with more ad dollars.

“This is a comprehensive and aggressive investment in [the segment],” said Brian Moore, VP of global footwear for the VF Corp.-owned brand.

According to retailers, that’s good news for The North Face, whose shoe division has struggled to mirror the profile of its outerwear and apparel.

“[The focus on footwear] is super refreshing. It has bounced around quite a bit within their company,” said Anthony Clark, shoe buyer for Park City, Utah-based Backcountry.com.

While the brand is a top 10 seller for the e-tailer, Clark noted that The North Face has huge amounts of untapped potential. “They make quality product, they just need to step that up and get that in front of people,” he said.

Moore, an industry veteran formerly with sister brand Timberland, is the first VP-level head for the footwear division, which he estimates makes up approximately 10 percent of North Face sales.

Since joining the brand in February, he’s overseen the creation of four product lines focused on running, outdoor, casual and youth, each with its own division head.

“We’ve added 20 percent to the staff this year so far, at a really senior level,” Moore said. “Right now, the footwear side is the single biggest team on the product side of the company.”

Key hires for The North Face include Paul Astorino, former head of performance running at Adidas, who leads the running division; and Carey Platto, former global product manager for sport performance footwear at Puma, who is now director of outdoor footwear.

Starting with spring and carrying over in a larger way for fall ’13, the brand will focus more on innovation — including technologies borrowed from the apparel line — and further launches. But the full extent of Moore’s changes won’t be felt until the spring ’14 line, the first that he and his team haved worked on from start to finish.

In anticipation of these efforts, The North Face is dramatically upping its marketing spend on the shoe category. In fact, a spokeswoman for the company said that in spring ’14, footwear will be the single biggest focus of the brand’s publicity efforts.

And that could make a sizeable difference for The North Face’s business, said Backcountry.com’s Clark. “In the past, they’ve tried to do footwear ads, but you can’t see the shoes,” he said. “That’s a lot of the reason people don’t look at them as a footwear brand, period. They don’t represent it.”

Moore said he sees his task as aligning the category with the brand as a whole.

“In apparel, The North Face does this combination of high performance with minimal weight, which is what mountaineering guys need. I mean, these are guys who cut the handles off their toothbrushes to save weight. So this whole idea of minimal with technology is perfect for The North Face footwear,” he said. “But we’re only now defining that as a unique proposition.”

The goal, Moore added, will be the same as in apparel — “to provide superior protection with lightweight performance.”

But lightweight won’t mean minimal, he explained. “Minimalism has been stripping things away, essentially saying the shoe doesn’t have any responsibility to provide protection. And that’s not our point of view,” Moore said. “We think the shoe still owes you something. Otherwise, you’d just wear a sock.”