The North Face Pushes Its Definition Of Hyperlocal

The North Face is looking to redefine what it means to be local, expanding its Made in the U.S.A. initiative.

The outdoor gear brand launched the Backyard Project back in November 2014, with the goal of creating all-cotton hoodies that were grown, designed, cut and sewn within 150 miles of its Alameda, California headquarters. It didn’t work.

But while the company didn’t quite meet its start-to-finish production goal, it did figure out how to collaborate with a collective of artisan farmers and small businesses -- and it is bringing the Backyard Project back, with an expanded array of “grown and sewn” products and a slightly different definition of local.

And while the previous effort was limited to a single style and color hoodie, this year’s project includes men’s t-shirts as well as men’s and women’s full-zip and pullover hoodies. Available in eight colors, it’s still all grown, sourced and manufactured within the U.S.A.



The cotton is ginned in either California or Arizona, and then spun into yarn in South Carolina before being dyed, cut and sewn in Los Angeles. And the line still commands a hefty premium to the brand’s other offerings: The Backyard Project hoodies are priced at $90, as opposed to the $50-ish it charges for regular sweatshirts.

The company says the entire line involved 10 acres of brown cotton and 12 bales of brown cotton, which translated into close to 17,000 garments.

A spokesperson says the cotton is not certified organic, however, and while it’s on the rise, finding domestic organic cotton is still a challenge. Five countries — China, India, Turkey, Tanzania and the United States — account for about 97% of organic cotton production, according to a spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association. 

But as demand grows, more farmers are making the complex switch to organic. According to OTA's latest Organic Industry Survey, organic fiber sales in 2014 in the U.S. totaled $1.1 billion, up 18% from the previous year. That included organic cotton, linen and wool, with the bulk of it being organic cotton. And there has been 14% increase in organic cotton acres planted in the U.S.

The company also announced a new twist in promoting its Explore Fund, inviting outsiders, including  filmmakers and artists, to submit ideas for stories that capture the spirit of exploration. The first in the series, called Little Expeditions, skips the brand’s usual snowboarder-on-a-mountain vibe for pure adorable, with former pro-skateboarder Colin Kennedy following his two-year-old son as he explores the world. It expects to award $500,000 in grants this year.

The North Face is owned by VF Corp., which also owns Vans and Timberland. In its latest earnings report, VF says the warm weather hurt the North Face, with fourth-quarter revenue slipping 4%, including a mid-single digit drop in the Americas.

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