The North Face Is Straddling a Crevasse in Branding, With a Belay From Jimmy Chin

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These efforts are strategic—a 2021 Deloitte study found that climate change and protecting the environment is Gen Z’s top concern, while a 2020 report from First Insight found that 73% of Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for products made more sustainably—and illustrate the way that success in each of these areas compounds.

Jimmy Chin is standing alone on a narrow wedge of snow-covered rock atop Antarctica’s Ulvetanna, a sharp mountain peak with an elevation of more than 9,600 feet. He squints through the damp fog, gloved hands clenching metal pulleys attached to ropes that are tethered to an unseen companion ahead of him, who somehow manages to be holding a camera. Chin is shin-deep in snow, emerging from what looks like the farthest, darkest reaches of the earth. But what stands out most is his bright red, puffy, hooded parka, which bears an unmistakable white logo on the chest and sleeve: the North Face. 

Chin, a photographer and filmmaker in his own right, is known for 2018’s Oscar-winning climbing documentary Free Solo, a New York Times best-selling photography book called There and Back, the 2021 feature documentary The Rescue, and the new National Geographic series Edge of the Unknown With Jimmy Chin. Chin has also been a sponsored athlete for the North Face since 2001, after climbing legend and North Face athlete Conrad Anker glimpsed Chin’s photos from an expedition to Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains. (Anker was the one who took the shot of Chin on Ulvetanna, which Chin posted to Instagram last July.)

Today, Chin is more than an athlete or brand ambassador: He’s a senior adviser to the 56-year-old outdoor apparel company, giving the brand both adventure-world legitimacy and cultural street cred. Even Free Solo was de facto North Face content, with one sponsored athlete (Chin) chronicling another (Alex Honnold) on a daring, rope-free climb. He provides feedback on designs, tests technical mountaineering gear, models clothes, and offers up a steady stream of epic photos and video from his adventures, including a live online Q&A from Antarctica in 2020 with fellow North Face adventurers Anker, Jim Morrison, and Hilaree Nelson (who passed away in September while on an expedition in Nepal). The company’s revenues have climbed in tandem, jumping 33% in its 2022 fiscal year to $2.46 billion.


retail  brands  sustainability  consumer spending

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