Ten years ago walking through a college campus wearing a boxy North Face puffer jacket in the middle of winter wouldn’t have been a fashion statement. It was normcore style at it’s finest. Now, The North Face has managed to carve out a sweet spot between essential outdoor gear and the influencer must-have to become the nostalgic necessity in your closet.
While it has long been a standout in the outdoor space, the label is making its way out of the woods and onto city streets with the likes of celebrities Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski all wearing the latest looks from The North Face, which are in fact designs that are decades old.
Its retro appeal, for instance, is part of what is gaining traction with a new set of fashion-focused consumers. Products such as its 1996 Nupste Jacket, the signature puffer, and the 1995 Denali fleece, are connecting with a different demographic, so much so that it is being sold in retailers outside of the outdoor realm, including Gen Z favorites Urban Outfitters, Asos and Revolve.
But this recent boom didn’t happen over night.
“It comes down to the work they’ve been laying out over the last few years to accelerate the brand in multiple dimensions,” said Laurent Vasilescu, managing director and senior equity analyst at Exane BNP Paribas. “Part of that is elevating the brand through product introduction and product innovation.”
The North Face created buzz most recently with its Gucci partnership, a collection complete with motif-printed puffers, fleece jackets, windbreakers, nylon shirts and hiking boots inspired from The North Face ‘1970s designs. Pieces from the collab have since been seen on A$AP Rocky, Jennifer Lopez and Pokémon Go gaming avatars.
It’s just one of the many partnerships The North Face has had in its backpocket as of late, including multiple collabs with Supreme and a fall ’20 line from Maison Margiela.
“2020 offered us an opportunity to collaborate with thoughtful partners who carry our same north star purpose mission, to uphold their own identity in every piece we design together for the outdoor enthusiasts,” said head of global creative, Tim Hamilton. “We created outdoor collections that feel very true to us while being innovative in their own right. This approach refreshingly translated into the market and expands our outdoor reach to a new generation of explorers.”
Vasilescu credits leadership from former president Arne Arens, who stepped down from the position in October, for recent gains over the last three years. Arens decisions to move out of off-price and to revisit iconic North Face product were key factors.
Now, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the brand is getting an additional boost from the growing enthusiasm among everyday consumers — many of whom face varying degrees of cabin fever — to embrace outdoor activities. With health and government officials encouraging social distancing, the great outdoors have not only become an escape for many people, it’s also been inspiration for key stakeholders in the fashion industry. Yes, outdoor trends in luxury have been percolating in recent seasons, however the writing on the wall suggests even more fashion-meets-function products will saturate the market in 2021 and beyond.
“Aside from company specific factors — [such as] driving innovation, product newness — the outdoor movement is fueling growth and is here to stay,” said Vasilescu. “The North Face will benefit from that post-COVID.”
The marketing engine behind the brand is another factor responsible for The North Face buildup, which includes its robust athlete roster, social media strategy and traditional advertising. “What we know from VF Corp’s annual report is that a high single digit percentage of sales is allocated to marketing. It’s actually a pretty meaningful number,” said Vasilescu. “At a brand level, marketing is potentially touching 10% for The North Face of revenues.”
To see celebrities wearing The North Face, click through the gallery.