Is The North Face worth your money?


In the mid-1960s, Yvon Chouinard and Doug
Tompkins met over a business deal. These two young men both shared a love for
adventure and a passion for all things outdoors. But they also had one more thing in common. They would each found two outdoor gear companies
that would become juggernauts in the field. For Chouinard it was Patagonia, and for Tompkins
it was The North Face. Both companies were born from a love of exploration
and a passion for trustworthy gear, but their paths quickly diverged. Chouinard kept Patagonia private and incrementally
grew the company into a brand that is passionate not only about good gear but about the environment
and ethical practices. Tompkins, on the other hand, sold The North
Face in 1966 for $50,000 dollars and the company transformed into a $2 billion publicly traded
corporation over the next 50 years, and it constantly straddles the line between a hunt
for profits and staying true to its outdoor adventuring roots. Considering these two diverging paths, I’ve
always wondered whether The North Face has retained the same attention to the environment
and ethical production as other sustainable leaders in the outdoor industry like Patagonia
or Cotopaxi, and, if you’re looking to buy new gear, is it worth it to buy The North
Face over other similar brands? The best way to understand The North Face’s
environmental approach is through its manufacturing and production processes. That’s where, according to the company itself,
85% of their apparel’s environmental impact comes from. The North Face produces a wide range of clothing
lines from streetwear and t-shirts to full-body Everest-tested snow suits that look like a
wearable sleeping bags. But The North Face never seems to be a leader
in the field of sustainability. Rather than pushing the boundaries of what
a for-profit company can do in terms of environmentalism and ethics, they follow in the footsteps of
those that do. For example, in 2000, Patagonia became the
first brand to start using textile manufacturers certified by bluesign, which seeks to minimize
the harmful environmental effects of clothing supply chains. 10 years later, The North Face then began
to partner with bluesign certified manufacturers. And in 2013, Patagonia and Fjallraven announced
their transition to only using cruelty-free down for their jackets, and a year later in
October 2014, The North Face followed suit. So while The North Face’s environmental
practices are improving, they aren’t necessarily innovating and discovering new ways to lessen
their impact, and part of this might be driven by a need to keep profits high in order to
appease shareholders, because the costs of environmental ethical actions in the eyes
of a multi-billion dollar company often outweigh the benefits. This is also present in dealing with waste
after their apparel leaves their store. The North Face has started to ramp up initiatives
to prevent unnecessary textile waste in the landfill like in-store clothing receptacles
for used North Face gear or the recently launched pilot of a program called The North Face Renewed,
which takes used gear, refurbishes it, and then sells them at a high price point. They even have a lifetime guarantee for their
product, but that guarantee quickly falls apart when you look at the fine print. Their warranty only really protects against
factory defects and not general wear and tear. So, once again, The North Face does have some
solid environmental practices and initiatives, but unfortunately, they still are caught between
two interests: making sure their quarterly profits are on the up and up, and making sure
they are creating environmentally ethical clothing. So, is The North Face worth your money? For me, no. Honestly, the most environmentally conscious
purchase is nothing at all or buying something used if anything, but if I had to choose a
sustainable brand it wouldn’t be The North Face. They seemed to be held back by a constant
need to boost profits and expand their brand, in ways that brand like Patagonia or Fjallraven
might not be. Ultimately, for an outdoor retail brand that
commands a large chunk of the industry, The North Face has the opportunity to challenge
its competitors to excel as much as a for-profit company can in terms of sustainability. But just looking at the company’s actions
in the last couple of years, The North Face only seems to be waiting for the tide to drag
them along. Hey team! Charlie here. Thanks for watching and thank you to the thousands
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