The North Face Looks Ahead

When it comes to making product greener, Barry McGeough, VP of footwear at The North Face, has lofty goals.

“We’re trying to reduce our footprint in everything we do,” he said. “We look at every aspect, and everything we bring to market has a reduced-impact component.”

After previous steps, including reducing packaging (no hangtags or stuffers) and incorporating materials including bamboo shanks, recycled tires and other recycled materials, McGeough said the brand turned its attention to a bigger challenge. “The next thing is how we can engineer greenness or energy efficiency into product and not on a supplier level,” he said.

The first answer will hit the market this spring, when the company will debut two collections within its Outdoor Lifestyle umbrella, both of which take the brand’s green initiatives to a new level.

This men’s collection of casual shoes, which will retail for $80 to $90, was created, McGeough said, to remove petroleum through the design process. The result was a midsole made of 30-plus layers of stacked and folded cotton canvas, which are stitched together to avoid any adhesive. A thin layer of cement (the company switched to all water-based adhesives last June) attaches the midsole to the outsole, which is then stitched as well. The rest of the shoe follows the same green pattern. The outsole is made of 40 percent recycled rubber, and the uppers are all unlined leather from Leather Working Group silver-certified tanneries.

Suzy Q-Zy No-Glue
The second collection — this time for women — uses a completely glueless construction for which the company is pursuing a patent. McGeough describes the $75-to-$85 shoes as a squishy sockliner overlaying an “injected insole with holes in it and an outsole. You attach them together with plug and then screw them in.” The 11-plug system is finished with a stitch all around the exterior to create what he calls a shoe that is secure all around.

McGeough said that going forward, the brand would continue to look for greener alternatives in manufacturing. “First, it was existing technology, and asking how can we adopt as many as these as possible? Now we’re getting into an innovation phase,” he said. Putting the brand’s resources behind creating these greener technologies, he said, is essential. “You can’t not invest in green technology — it’s not an option. As much as we can, it’s our job to change the industry.”

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