The North Face is celebrating the fourth annual Global Climbing Day in a way that not only recognizes the sport of rock climbing, but also prioritizes the brand’s continued focus on sustainability initiatives.
In honor of Global Climbing Day on Aug. 22 and as a way to raise donations for a good cause, The North Face Renewed, the brand’s division dedicated to refurbishing used products and keeping apparel in circulation as long as possible, has made a limited-edition run of upcycled chalk bags, three of which are signed by climbing icons Alex Honnold, Ashima Shiriashi and Jimmy Chin. The exclusive wares are being auctioned off on TheNorthFaceRenewed.com.
“The team chose chalk bags due to their simple construction, as well as the brand relevancy—it’s the main piece of equipment climbers use to express themselves,” Kellen Hennessy, senior designer at The North Face, told Sourcing Journal. “Nothing is more expressive and individualized than upcycled product.”
While the VF Corp.-owned brand already sells fully recycled chalk bags, it wanted to create a new, upcycled product from scraps of damaged garments to support the Walls are Meant for Climbing campaign, which calls attention to racism and inequity within the climbing community and elevates those leading the sport forward.
All proceeds from the signed upcycled chalk bags for auction and the additional upcycled bags for purchase will be donated to the campaign’s “Walls Fund.” The North Face has already committed to donating over $80,000 this year to programs lowering climbing’s barriers to entry. The proceeds will directly benefit organizations such as Indigenous Womxn Climb, Paraclimbing London, Coral Cliffs, Memphis Rox, The Brown Ascenders, Climb Malawi, Paradox Sports and All Rise.
“At the onset of this project the team was adamant that we should do something creative to support the Walls are Meant for Climbing campaign, and these upcycled chalk bags felt like a great way to support the program especially under our current supply chain limitations,” said Nicholas Thomas, senior manager, The North Face Renewed. “Once the team saw how cool and unique the bags were, it was easy to engage our athlete team and solidify the support for the Walls Fund.”
The chalk bag materials vary from sample to sample given that they were all created with unique, previously damaged garments ranging from two- and three-layer breathable shells, to technical knits and wovens, to a variety of fleeces like the brand’s Campshire Hoodie and iconic Denali.
The standard process for North Face Renewed to refurbish garments to a “like-new” standard can take anywhere from a few days, to more than a week, depending on a variety of factors, according to Hennessy.
“The first priority when renewing product is consistently maintaining quality and performance standards while being nimble enough to adapt to ever-changing inventory and repair considerations,” Hennessy said. “Additionally, scalability is critical in efficiently processing product, which is why upcycling can be challenging.”
The North Face design team worked on the chalk bags with technicians at The Renewal Workshop, an Oregon-based company that helps apparel and textile brands recover value from garments that can’t be sold due to defect, damage or other reasons.
The Renewal Workshop has been instrumental in enabling The North Face’s path to circularity. In 2019, outdoor brand launched its Design Residency, a program to educate designers on the principles of circular design. Both in the classroom and on the factory floor, designers learn about the complete garment lifecycle, and then apply these learnings through hands-on repair and redesign to make future products more repairable, reusable or recyclable.
The North Face is even encouraging shoppers to make their own functional chalk bags at home and hopes consumers will follow through on other DIY apparel projects going forward.
“I think that showing people how simple it can be to repurpose and upcycle materials is a really empowering tool,” said Hennessy. “Often people who don’t consider themselves ‘crafty’ can feel really intimidated by the prospect of repairing something, but it can feel much more doable if it’s presented in an approachable way. There is also often a stigma with wearing imperfect clothing, but I think the outdoor community is much more open to visible repairs, embracing the ‘battle wounds’ from their adventures, and making the most out of their gear.”
Since launching Renewed in 2018, The North Face says it has diverted more than 200,000 pounds of clothing from landfills. Hennessy said he wants the current program to expand beyond the chalk bags to other small goods for future Global Climbing Days.
“As a design team, we are constantly having conversations about our industry, waste, sustainability, and upcycling as a lever for change,” Hennessy said. “Combining my experience with The Renewal Workshop from the Design Residency with Hunter Nordhauser’s expertise in equipment design, it seemed like a perfect match to try out an upcycled equipment product line at a small scale with The Renewal Workshop. They have an abundance of damaged merchandise that is beyond repair, and making useful products with those materials to extend their life cycles is what our combined mission is with this group.”
The North Face, a champion of sustainability since conservationist Douglas Tompkins founded the brand in 1966, has recently reinvented classic apparel items such as its iconic Mountain and Nuptse jackets, using castoff materials such as 600-fill recycled goose down and 100 percent recycled polyester.
Last fall, the brand introduced eight new sustainable product lines, including Futurelight, a series of PFC-free waterproof outerwear made with 90 percent recycled materials.
While sustainability continues to carry on for The North Face as it celebrates Global Climbing Day, the brand is using the platform to push its partnerships as well. The North Face teamed up with Brain Dead, a creative collective of artists and designers from around the world that draws style inspiration from post-punk, skateboarding and underground comics, to deliver a Fall/Winter 2020 collection inspired by climbing silhouettes and functional detailing.
Alongside pioneers from the climbing community, The North Face and Brain Dead are co-hosting a Global Climbing Day YouTube Live event starting at 12 p.m. ET on Aug. 22, that features conversations about diversity, inclusion and building a more equitable future, starting with gyms and mountaintops.