In 1966, The North Face entered retailing with the opening of its first store in San Francisco featuring a performance by the Grateful Dead and security provided by members of the Hells Angels. Last week, the future of North Face retail opened in the East-Coast hipster neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
In a walk-through of the store on North 6th Street, Mark Parker, North Face’s VP of direct to consumer (DTC), said the store serves many purposes, including showcasing its wide array of lifestyle. The space will also serves as a vehicle to fully tell the North Face story to and form connections with city dwellers. But the store is called The North Face Prototype because lessons learned through experimentation at the space will be incorporated into other store concepts for the brand across the globe in the future.
“This is a place where we’re going to play and learn,” said Parker.
With an open layout, the 4,000 square foot store delivers a “far more curated experience” versus North Face’s traditional full-line and flagship locations to support engagement and story-telling, according to Parker.
The front of the store showcases the brand’s expansive range of lifestyle product tied to well-known icon pieces. But the focus is on telling the stories behind the technology inside those items as well as The North Face brand overall. Said Parker, “While we were born on the mountain, we’ve been adopted by the city. So this store is in celebration of that.”
Towards that end, the left wall as shoppers walk in features a row of pictures celebrating the brand’s 2017 Antarctic expedition to Queen Maud Land that was led by Conrad Anker. The shots were taken by famed photographer and adventurist Jimmy Chin and features some of North Face’s youngest athletes, such as Anna Pfaff and Savannah Cummins.
Customers are able to learn that the athletes were involved in designing the outfits they wore on the expedition to manage the brutal storms and freezing wind of Antarctica. They’ll also learn that past adventurers tackling mountains with as Himalayas were behind iconic jackets such as the Nupsie, birthed in 1992, and the Mountain Jacket, which came out in 1990, that have become key pieces in the brand’s lifestyle range.
Beyond footwear, the back section of the store places a bigger focus on limited-distribution product to “really showcase” North Face’s extensive lifestyle range. This includes the brand’s premium Black Label collection and product collaborations that have included several wildly successful ones with Supreme.
Currently at the store is a version of the Nuptse jacket as part of the Black Label collection that features an updated hood and crushed velvet materialization and sells for $775. The jacket features a hood that packs into the collar in an oversized style. Also featured in the Williamsburg store is North Face’s recent collaboration with Japanese designer Kazuki Kuraishi.
Before the store opened, North Face on October 10 held a drop of a limited-edition capsule collection at the location done in collaboration with Masaaki Homma, the Japanese designer and the founder of Mastermind. The drop drew crowds with all 297 items selling out in three hours.
Indeed, a large part of the store’s mission will be to explore how the brand can engage consumers in louder moments such as product drops and events as well as quieter ones through one-on-one engagement on the selling floor.
Parker said that the brand is accelerating its investment in DTC not only because stores can be used to “tell the true story of the brand,” but also in how they enable brands to connect with consumers. He added, “We chose the location in Williamsburg on purpose because there’s such a wide variety of lifestyles who reside here and we can connect with the community based here.”
To support community connections, North Face is making sure all the location’s associates either live in or have lived in Williamsburg. The store also won’t have a checkout area. Associates will be using tablets to check out customers to support a “far more personalized experience” for customers in the sales process, said Parker.
But a big focus will be placed on community activation both inside the store as well as in a 2,000 square foot lot that North Face is also leasing next door.
A community manager has been hired to oversee community activation. Inside the store, all the fixtures can be moved to turn the space into an event space to support events with musicians, artists, curators and other city-oriented “explorers.”
Tim Bantle, North Face’s general manager and VP of Lifestyle Brands, told SGB Exec that that while many view outdoor exploration as “hanging off the side of the mountain,” the Williamsburg location and planned activation efforts acknowledge that exploration “can be on and off mountain for a lot of people.”
North Face plans to explore the “shared mindset” of mountain and city explorers with its activation efforts at Prototype. The brand is already working with a number of musicians, artists and curators “who really embody that spirit of exploration” many of its performance ambassadors also embrace, said Bantle.
Later this month, Harlem-based rapper Princess Nokia will share her story of inspiration as well as perform some of her songs inside the store for about 150 of her fans.
Inside the outside space adjacent the sore, a block party event was held on Saturday for the brand’s new Williamsburg neighbors featuring food and drink from surrounding neighborhood partners, DJ performances and a live set by Brooklyn based rapper Topaz Jones.
Bantle said having outside space offers another set of options for community engagement such as musicians, cookouts and overnight camping. Bantle said, “It’s so rare to have that much outside space in the city so we want to make sure we get it right and also make sure it’s not forced.”
Parker also stressed that while the initial concept was long planned, experimentation will be ongoing as North Face tests a variety of ideas with its overall goal of setting the path for the brand’s retail vision. Parker said, “This isn’t fixed. This is a very flexible space for us. We are here to disrupt and surprise.”
Images courtesy North Face