IN 1966, A DRIVEN young climber (the late Douglas Tompkins) tired of scavenging for quality gear from mail order and army surplus, took a few thousand dollars and created a global cultural institution.
The North Face retail store at 308 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s bohemian North Beach neighborhood was a tiny space between blue-collar bars and Beat hangouts, but it was from here that the brand first really came to life. It’s not every retailer that has an opening event that includes the Grateful Dead playing a live gig while members of the Hells Angels acted as doormen to the opening event, but it certainly can be classed as memorable!
From the start, The North Face store served as a meeting ground for the day’s best climbers and adventurers. With an in-house museum of historic hardware donated by Yosemite’s legendary climbers and a who’s who of American alpinism dropping by any day of the week, the store took on a life of its own.
It was this intrinsic tie with climbers and other adventurers that saw, in 1977, The North Face introduce the tagline “Expedition Proven,” referencing 10-plus years of the world’s top explorers pushing The North Face gear to higher and higher performance.
From Ned Gillete’s 1972 expedition of the Brooks Range Ski Traverse to Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk’s becoming the first to scale the Shark’s Fin of Meru in 2008, The North Face athletes have pushed the boundaries of human endurance and completed some amazing outdoor challenges.
In 2016, The North Face still holds to its primary belief in mountain sports – from mountaineering, hiking, snow sports to climbing, and considers these sports the nucleus of the brand. Beyond these sports, The North Face sees mountain athletics and mountain culture as other significant places where its consumers prepare for their best adventures through countless hours of training to the “campfire moments” once those adventures have been completed. This belief is reiterated by The North Face President, Todd Spaletto.
“Starting about 10 years ago, everyone was really getting concerned that cell [mobile] phones and technology were going to swallow up the time people would otherwise have outdoors. But what we’ve found is that exploration becomes a counterpoint to all of that. That the experience of being outside is so powerful and so large that it can’t be ignored,” says Spaletto.
It’s a brilliant sentiment and one that AG Outdoor has adhered to in its 21 years of publication; encouraging the population into the outdoors, whether that be a family camping trip or a group of friends planning a big trek or bike expedition, is the main focus of the magazine.
With multiple flagship stores across the nations, and a growing local athlete team comprised of elite climbers, ultrarunners, skiers, snowboarders and explorers, The North Face continues to thrive in Australia and New Zealand. Through initiatives and events like The North Face Adventure Grant, The North Face Frontier, and supporting other grassroots community events, the brand continues to help fuel exploration for the residents of Australia and New Zealand.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary The North Face will be hosting a three-day exhibition open to the public in Sydney city, showcasing the history of the brand and screening documentaries of harrowing exploration from The North Face athlete team such as Meru, Valley Uprising and local Australian athletes James Castrission and Justin Jones’ Crossing the Ice.
As a throwback to the North Beach store opening, where the Grateful Dead played, Central Coast duo Winterbourne will be performing on the final night kicking off with a few covers from the iconic rock band, and closing the night with their own tunes.
Ambush Gallery Central Park, 28 Broadway, Chippendale NSW, Tuesday 22 November – Thursday 24 November. Open to the public 10am – 5pm. Screenings from 6pm.
Tickets available at: bit.ly/TheNorthFace50Years.