To meaningfully speak to serious outdoor gear heads, streetwear fans, and your everyday adventurer is a tricky balancing act, but one that The North Face manages with ease. Starting as an outfitter for mountain purists, in recent years the brand has been making waves in the lifestyle space with fashion-forward collections and technical products designed to face the city’s elements on a daily basis. While the brand is set on catering further to the emerging generation of urban explorers, it is, simultaneously, striving to bring more of those adventurous city dwellers into the great outdoors in a push to make the mountains a more accessible, democratic, and diverse place.
The mountains and, in particular, snowsports, are inaccessible for the majority. Gear is expensive, there are geographical limitations, and if you’re not used to venturing into the wilderness, then knowing where to start can be daunting and involve a significant amount of research. With such high buy-in, it's not surprising that these activities are often seen as elitist, an image that The North Face is set on changing.
“The mountains aren't just for the elite. The mountains are for everyone,” says Amanda Calder-McLaren, communication’s director at The North Face. “We’re at the top of the mountain, but people start at the bottom and you have to help them up. I don't think outdoor brands have done a good enough job at that as if they fear that the mountains are suddenly going to be diluted.”
To counter this belief, the brand is raising awareness and curiosity about the outdoors by bringing The North Face logo into the city via more affordable gear, offering grant programs to NGOs that give those without the means access to the mountains, and sponsoring events that enable it to reach an audience that wouldn’t normally come into contact with snowsports. The most recent example of this is the brand’s team-up with music festival Tomorrowland.
“Tomorrowland's a great example where you're bringing culture into somewhere that people might not have thought of coming before,” explains Calder-McLaren. “Tomorrowland said to their audience, "Come with us. Come explore the mountains." That's where we live, so we were like, "Right. If that's where music meets mountains, then that's where we belong."
Starting out 14 years ago as a small electronic music festival in Belgium, Tomorrowland ventured into the French Alps for the first time this winter to bring music and snowsports together. The premise of the event is to celebrate unity, diversity, and inclusivity – values which resonate with The North Face’s vision.
Joined by freeskiers Markus Eder and Evelina Nilsson, as well as snowboarder Marion Haerty just days after she won first place on the Freeride World Tour, The North Face gave festival-goers the chance to meet and ride with pros. “I'm happy to see people so excited to try snowboarding for the first time,” explains Haerty. “I don’t know if its because they are using their bodies differently or if it’s just the feeling of being free, but everyone seems so happy.”
Unlike Haerty who grew up in the foothills of the alps, Calder-McLaren hails from London and knows the benefits of exploring both the streets and the summits. “From everything from mental health to physical health, connections with people and each other, adventures,” she explains. “Exploring, as a thing, is a phenomenal way to be, it's like an open mindset. And when we're open to new things, then we generally get on a lot better basically.“
Tomorrowland is just one example of the brand’s efforts to bring snowsports to those who wouldn't normally have the chance to try them. Aware that one of the main barriers to the mountains is cost, the outdoor brand has invested in charitable programs such as the Explore Fund, which provides grants to non-profits that are helping people of all backgrounds and all experiences to explore the outdoors. So far the company has granted $3 million to more than 500 nonprofits in the US and will be opening up the program to European organizations this year. Other endeavors include the She Moves Mountains campaign, which gave 1,600 girls the chance to experience mountains for the first time.
Why are they going to such lengths? Calder-McLaren explains, “Mountains do one of the most important things in the world, which is that they humble you. And they make you realize how small you are, and how beautiful this planet is. And as soon as you have an appreciation for that, it cascades into how you treat the planet. So, recycling, and just trying to provide a better place for the next generation.”
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