Ski patrol jackets retired from their role cladding mountain safety experts staffing ski slopes and snowboarding resorts nationwide form the bedrock of The North Face’s new Remade Snow collection.
The limited-edition line of upcycled men’s and women’s jackets, goggles cases, tote bags and canisters, in the works for more than a year, according to Kellen Hennessey, circularity design manager for the VF-owned label, plucks the iconic white-cross-emblazoned fire-engine red jackets from a dead-end fate and reimagines them for a second life. Snowboarders Mary Rand, Austin Smith, and Erik Leon were “super stoked” with how the jackets and gear turned out after The North Face recruited their input about Remade Snow, Hennessey said.
There isn’t really a straightforward way to deal with the end of life for what Timberland’s sister brand calls industry product, meaning the co-branded outerwear it produces for ski lodges and partner resorts whose employees might be “ski instructors or their safety personnel, like chairlift operators, you know, the whole gamut,” Hennessey said.
“We found we were getting that gear back after a couple of years of use and wear and tear. Or in in a lot of the cases, some of the products that we were working on, some of the resort brand names changed and so all of that product was no longer useful for them,” she continued. “And of course, it’s amazing product—it’s a lot of these really high-end Pinnacle snow jackets or pants or vests. We want to keep them in use. They’re really beautiful pieces that have been really thoughtfully designed. Those resources are valuable and we want to keep them on the backs of people who will be out in the snow.”
And thus the brand’s latest circular design residency was born after covid, Hennessey’s maternity leave, and transitioning from working with previous repair partner The Renewal Workshop to Tersus interrupted plans for regular follow-ups after initial efforts a few years back. “I commissioned my snow design team who also work on the industry product to go spend a week and dig through bins and learn and play with the product,” the cradle-to-grave expert said of how designers “quite literally” clambered into industrial-sized Gaylord cardboard boxes crammed with “hundreds and hundreds of garments” at the brand’s Renewed facility in Denver.
That “amazing creative exercise” gave designers the chance to “just go wild and think differently about this type of product,” she continued. “They’re so used to working in a very technical way about how to create protection and safety from the elements and performance gear.”
The challenge in this case was figuring out how to work around the liabilities posed by the “big, overt white reflective safety crosses” emblazoned on discarded ski patrol jackets, Hennessey pointed out. Simply reselling the items as-is isn’t possible “because we don’t want anybody to mistake a person for a trained safety professional who isn’t,” she said.
Shaving off all four crosses on each jacket end up being the way forward in a “super labor-intensive,” painstaking process done by hand at Contingenci by Good Human LLC out of San Jose, Calif. “We didn’t want to damage basically the integrity of the seam taping that was behind where the crosses had been, so the seam tape is intact, and then we worked with our graphics team to develop these really cool series of heat transfer patches that then we applied over where all of the crosses were,” Hennessey said, resulting in “an opportunity to storytell and have a cool graphic moment” while masking any needle holes exposed after the crosses were scraped away.
Once the aesthetic was settled, all that was left to do was develop patches and trims to fit as needed. The nature of the Remade Snow project—working with a consistent batch of inputs versus a piecemeal hodgepodge—offered the unique opportunity to upcycle at scale, Hennessey said.
“With the accessories we were able to sort out what we had, and what sizes and from what resorts, and [that] enabled us to be a bit more consistent with upcycling, because then you can be more efficient,” she said. “We’ve had some other upcycling projects that we’ve done which are amazing, but it’s hard to upcycle at scale. It’s just not efficient and when you’re working with different materials and sizes and colors, it can create a lot of problems. So we were trying to make it efficient, and luckily we had the components to do that.”
Creating Remade Snow wouldn’t have been possible without the help of industry partners. Beyond Contingenci by Good Human, which applied the heat transfer patches after expunging the crosses, The North Face tapped incumbent Colorado collaborator Green Gear Guru out of Boulder to whip up the tote bags, goggle cases and canisters.
“It’s been really great to forge relationships with them,” Hennessey said. The quarterly drops born from the main The North Face Renewed circularity platform leverage internal product and the repair expertise of Tersus, which is an “amazing” partner but not a full-fledged production facility, she added. But any renewal projects involving cutting and assembly and more involved processes get outsourced so Tersus can focus on where its specialized proficiency creates impact.
One of the biggest takeaways from working on Remade Snow is that The North Face has an opportunity to take a smarter approach to designing future ski patrol jackets, according to Hennessey, who said the brand will aim to create key elements “for modularity or repairability or making them able to be better dealt with when they are done with their intended use.”
That could mean easy-to-remove patrol crosses or finding an alternative to densely embroidered branded logos that are tricky to remove. “Things like that are bigger learnings that we need to take into account as we start to look into future seasons and future products that we’re building,” she said.
The North Face auctioned off a few one-off upcycled pieces on Saturday, while members of the XPLR pass loyalty program got the first crack at the Remade Snow collection before it was made available to the public at thenorthfacerenewed.com.