The North Face, yesterday, gave outdoor media in Boulder, CO a preview of what’s to come for spring/summer 2017, including an expansion of its Fuse Form technology, a foray into performance cushion footwear, and a broader view on how it plans to balance the business between its core outdoor roots and growing urban lifestyle markets.
“We want to talk more about the brand’s philosophy, today, and less about products,” said The North Face Vice President and Head of Apparel Kevin Joyce. The event was held at The North Face’s new design center in Boulder, CO — a gathering place for the company’s designers and athletes to escape the Bay Area headquarters and immerse themselves in one of the United States’ outdoor meccas.
It was in these outdoor-focused cities like Boulder, or Santa Fe, NM, or Portland, OR, where one might say the outdoor lifestyle story began, Joyce said — where those going to work or out for drinks had no problem wearing their technical puffy or stashing their laptop in a climbing bag.
It was a sign that active consumers not only found the gear highly functional (for city use, too), but that they wanted to extend their outdoor lives into their everyday lives. And while the trend may have started in places like Boulder or Santa Fe, its now booming in the nation’s largest cities and metropolitan areas, too.
These active city dwellers don’t have the luxury of the Rocky Mountains right out their back door, but they are making efforts to get out and discover local wild places that are a 45 to 60-minute drive. Matt Segal, wicked good climber and The North Face sponsored athlete attested to this trend at the event, saying on his last visit to Los Angeles, his local buddies took him not to a gym in the city, but to a natural spot just an hour away.
For brands like The North Face, Joyce said, the opportunity lies to target these consumers beyond just its core gear. “We’re going to focus on what happens when our athletes and consumers are not on the mountain or not training,” he said. “There’s still a lot of their lives that we want to be a part of.”
That echoes what The North Face President Todd Spaletto told SGB earlier this year and is one of the ways the brand can become less seasonal dependent and meet consumer demand, no matter what their activity is for the day, Joyce said.
But pump the brakes, because Joyce was keen on emphasizing that its expansion into the concrete jungle will not overtake its technical outdoor business.
“This is a real part of our consumers’ lives,” he said, “but as we expand in urban, it becomes even more important to focus on the very authentic side of outdoor products.”
In other words, the new materials, technologies and innovations will always stem from an outdoor mindset — meeting the needs and solving problems for its core outdoor customers. But then that technology will filter down into urban lines and designs. The company refers to it all as their “360-degree view of consumers and athletes.”
Spring/Summer 2017 Preview
So what new technologies and products is The North Face working on for spring/summer 2017.
While we can’t share all the technical details just yet, we can give you some nuggets of what’s to come:
- The North Face is doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on its signature Fuse Form technology — the one where a single sheet of fabric can be knit/woven with different densities and tenacities without the need to cut, sew and seam. That reduces cost and weight and overall makes a product stronger when it’s made of less parts. Fuse Form debuted several seasons ago in jackets, and now will move to mid-layers, and even equipment. For example, one of The North Face’s new climbing packs will utilize the tech to feature a burlier bottom with a lighter top, without the need to sew on panels. The other big news for Fuse Form — for the first time it will debut with Gore-Tex laminates in rain jackets.
- In two new footwear styles for spring/summer 2017, The North Face giving a go at the lightweight performance-cushion trend that has been a big hit in the running shoe scene. All that cushion feels great, Joyce said, but isn’t the best for stability on uneven trails. The North Face’s solution, which will debut in a trail runner and hiking boot, involves centering the cushion under the sole and surrounding it with a ring of higher durometer (eg. harder) material that provides stability with lower stack heights.
- In equipment, the highlight for spring/summer 2017 comes in a couple new sleeping bags for The North Face that will employ its triple-weave baffle construction, first debuted last winter in a puffy jacket. The technology weaves the baffles directly into the material as its being made with no need to stitch them in afterward. It saves weight, stitching and reduces cold spots.
Photos by David Clucas