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Why The North Face Recruited New Recommerce Partners

The North Face‘s newest partnerships will help scale the outdoor brand’s growing re-commerce roadmap.

The VF Corp. brand is transitioning to a factory purpose-built for sorting, cleaning and restoring garments, and is working with digital resale technology platform Archive to manage the Renewed platform it launched in 2018 to sell pre-owned apparel.

“Consumers’ preferences have changed a lot, and how they want to interact with brands from a re-commerce perspective continues to evolve, and evolve quickly,” The North Face senior manager of new business models Nicholas Thomas told Sourcing Journal, adding that the brand was looking for a “technologically innovative and forward-thinking” partner to support its efforts.

Archive gives Renewed customers an experience consistent with what they’d find on The North Face’s main website, from professional photography to thorough product descriptions. On the back end, the system tracks the product journey, from warehouse arrival through fulfillment, including product identification, cleaning, repairs, and site listing. Archives recycles rather than resells some past-their-prime items, while managing and documenting the refurbishment process for salable goods.

Renewed products will be processed by Archive and Tersus Solutions.

The platform also aims to give users multiple avenues for purchasing or selling product, Archive co-founder and CEO Emily Gittins added. “There will be different ways for consumers to sell secondhand—either direct, through a peer-to-peer model, or a mail-in takeback model,” she said, while cleaning and repair take place before the pieces are sent out to new owners. Like-new items are good candidates for direct selling, which will launch in the coming months, while products that need mending are routed through Renewed’s back-end operations and put up for sale. “Our vision for this is that we expand this program to have a variety of different offerings,” Gittins added.

The North Face also found a factory partner that it believes will help broaden the appeal of pre-owned apparel and footwear. Denver-based Tersus Solutions, just 7 miles away from the outdoor brand’s headquarters, has been working to restore textiles since 2009, Thomas said. The operation relies on a proprietary CO2-driven cleaning machine that “ultimately results in far less energy being used and zero water waste.”

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Tersus Solutions uses a proprietary CO2-driven waterless cleaning machine.

The companies have worked in each other’s orbit for some time, Thomas added—a former Renewed factory partner leased one of Tersus’ machines—and “this was an opportunity to strengthen [the partnership].” The North Face responded to the cleaning and upcycling group’s willingness to collaborate and innovate. Recently, Renewed expanded its assortment from apparel to footwear and accessories—and the goal is to go even further.

“The North Face makes some of the highest quality outdoor gear in the market, and it’s a disservice to the designers, developers, material and sourcing teams to have that product be anywhere but on the trails,” said Thomas, who wants to see eligible products from sleeping bags to tents eligible for sale through Renewed. “We’re unlocking more of the catalogue.”

While the company hopes to see a quick expansion into new categories, Thomas said that developing proficiency takes time. “We’re limited in the kind of hands-on expertise to take apart a tent that was destined for Everest, and make sure that it still meets very high quality standards for refurbished gear,” he said. “Everything should perform exactly the way that it was intended—though it may not look exactly the way it did in the beginning,”

Democratizing the outdoor space is a driver for Gittins. “I think what’s really exciting is expanding access,” she said, noting that high-performance products can be price-prohibitive for some shoppers. “Buying all of this equipment and gear can be an expensive pursuit for someone who’s relatively new to that type of hobby,” she added.

The North Face’s data shows that Renewed consumers tend to skew younger than the brand’s traditional base, and the affinity for sustainable products is strong. Renewed has developed its own loyal following in a sense, Thomas said. “We’re continually surprised at how often they come back, and one of the beauties of re-commerce is it is dynamic.” A consumer who visited the site in the morning might see different product available when they return later in the day. “These consumers are conditioned to come back multiple times a week, to re-engage, to see what’s been recently refurbished and available for resale.”

Archive's platform tracks garments through their repair journey with Tersus Solutions.

Eco-conscious shoppers are also driven to seek information. Archive’s platform provides visibility into the Renewed supply chain for a clear view of processes and integrating with Tersus’ operations. While the three partners have not yet developed a strategy or mechanism for offering the product transparency to shoppers, Thomas acknowledged the inherent value of access to such information.

“We definitely have a long runway here, and this partnership will unlock a lot of for us,” he said. “I’m excited for what I’ve seen the technology is capable of, and it’s just a matter of how we as the brand package it for consumers in a digestible way.” Gittins envisions a future where consumers can access insights about their Renewed purchases, from how they were processed for resale to how many users owned them in the past.

Proximity to the brand’s home base is a major selling point for Tersus as The North Face looks to integrate pre-owned products more seamlessly into its overall assortment, and continue to design for repair and reuse. Design, buying and materials teams have all toured the facility to develop a newfound understanding of “what it takes to refurbish, clean and identify” products for resale. Seeing how products hold up over time is also informs product development.

For longtime team members, the process has been especially rewarding. “It’s been really inspiring to see how excited people are once they see products they sometimes haven’t seen in years going through the factory” on the way to a new life, Thomas said. “I’m really optimistic about where we can take this.”