- The outdoor apparel retailer is also forging strategic partnerships with influencers, YouTube stars, and even organizations like Girl Scouts of America.
- "You have people like us who grew up with the Denali, but you also have young generations of consumers who are discovering what they call 'retro styles,' and at the same time re-imagining and reintegrating how they're wearing them for their lifestyle," Arne Arens, global brand president of The North Face, told Business Insider.
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Whether you were hiking through a national park or simply attending high school homeroom, there's a good chance in the late 1990s and early aughts you were doing so while wearing The North Face 's Denali fleece jacket.
The iconic jacket with its zip chest pockets, bungee cinch waist, and wide array of colors became an unexpected and enduring fan favorite for The North Face. It was originally designed as a zip-in layer to a mountain jacket, constructed in 1988 for climbers Todd Skinner and Paul Piana on their free ascent of the Salath Wall, a rock face in Yosemite National Park.
However, over the course of the next few years, the technical fleece proved to be more than just useful for athletes, but also for the rest of America as they ran errands, jogged around the block, or went to class. By looking to the success of the Denali as a model, The North Face is using several tactics to once again woo young shoppers.
Getting 'retro' with heritage collections
The North Face is leaning into the power of nostalgia marketing with its "95 Retro Denali Jacket," part of a larger "icon strategy" designed to attract younger shoppers to the brand, according to Arne Arens, global brand president of The North Face.
"You have people like us who grew up with the Denali, but you also have young generations of consumers who are discovering what they call 'retro styles,' and at the same time re-imagining and reintegrating how they're wearing them for their lifestyle," Arens told Business Insider.
The 95 Retro Denali is part of the Eco Heritage Collection, a collection of apparel The North Face rolled out in September. Using design elements from popular 1990s jackets, the company reimagined puffer coats, vests, and fleeces for the modern shopper.
At the same time, The North Face has also benefited from enthusiasm from the streetwear scene. The North Face has teamed up with Supreme on multiple limited-edition collections, including most recently in March 2019. Its new store concept even includes an entire section dedicated to urban wear, a more edgy take on some of the brand's classics.
From YouTube videos to Girl Scouts badges
Beyond design, The North Face has strategically sought out partnerships intended to get the brand in front of young consumers. Earlier this year, the company invited a group of young influencers including YouTuber Nathan Zed, visual artist Monica Hernandez, and climate activist Maia Wikler to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of an expedition led by the The North Face.
For the influencers, it was a way to cop a free trip and score some new jackets. For The North Face, it served as an integral marketing push to get North Face-clad influencers to share social content about the journey with their legions of followers.
"So one day out of nowhere, I get an email from the freaking North Face saying they'd like to work with me," Zed, who is known for his comedic videos, says in the beginning of the 18-minute YouTube video he posted after the expedition. "I'm thinking, like, 'Oh bet, I'm just going to get some clothes, post up in them, put it on my Instagram, and that'll be it, right?"
Once Zed learns of the plan to head to the Arctic, he expresses surprise, which is ultimately what the brand is going for: Positioning The North Face in unexpected places, including in a video from a YouTube star with nearly half a million subscribers.
"I was like 'Huh? What? Me? Arctic Expedition?'" Zed continues. "I've never been camping. I've never even really been hiking for real. I've never in my life heard a black person say 'The Great Outdoors.'" The video has nearly 60,000 views.
To appeal to an even younger demographic, The North Face also teamed with the Girl Scouts of America in July to announce "Moving Mountains," a program to "educate and inspire young women" and "enable the next generation of women to push boundaries." As part of the partnership, The North Face introduced 12 new outdoor adventure badges that can be earned through participation in activities like backpacking, trail running, and cross-country skiing.
"That transparency and clear purpose is, we believe, a really authentic way to engage with Gen Z," Arens said.
'Doubling down on sustainability'
Similar to peers like Patagonia, The North Face has made sustainability a core tenet of the business from its start in 1968. Even the iconic Denali jacket has always used 100% recycled polyester tumbled fleece since 1988, long before climate change became a regular point of national conversation.
Steve Lesnard, global vice president of marketing at The North Face, said the company has continued to focus on environmentally friendly practices both as part of its business model and to appeal to young shoppers who tend to be more eco-conscious. The North Face continues to prioritize eco-conscious materials in product design, which Lesnard said has been an important selling point for Gen Z.
"Sustainability in general is something that Gen Z cares about, and the kind of the footprint that companies and brands leave on planet," he told Business Insider. "This is something that we've always been super serious about from the day we were born, but now we're doubling down on the sustainability side of our business."
Ultimately, Arens said The North Face's mission is always to encourage outdoor activities for everyone, including young people, while selling more outerwear in the process.
"A huge part of our DNA has always been to try to welcome more people into the outdoors," he said. "Now more than ever, it's really important to get Gen Z outside to enable and inspire them to look up from their phone and go explore."
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