In order to remain viable, a business like The North Face obviously has to sell products. And Kathy Hines, the brand’s newly-appointed vice-president of marketing and strategy, admits she’d be lying if she were to say anything different. But beyond that, she believes the business has an opportunity to make a difference, and so she has also taken on a much bigger task: to make sure the 50-year-old outdoor brand has a legacy and leaves something behind that her and her team can be proud of.
Cue The North Face’s latest global campaign, She Moves Mountains, which is hoping to shine a light on female athletes and inspire a new generation of female explorers, regardless of their background.
From rock climbers Margo Hayes and Ashima Shiraishi, to ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson and Jiu-Jitsu fighter and ultra runner Fernanda Maciel, the campaign celebrates some of the most adventurous women from all corners of the globe – and kickstarts the brand’s longer-term commitment to be more inclusive of women.
“We are a large brand that can make a difference,” Hines tells Marketing Week. “This campaign was particularly important for us because it’s focused on women in the inner city who might not have the resources to embrace exploration like others might. We wanted to pick that as the sharp point to make sure we were opening up the concept of exploration to any woman regardless of where they live or what their current means are.”
We’re still very much perceived as a mountain brand but I see the brand everywhere.
Kathy Hines, The North Face
To do this, The North Face partnered with outdoor educational charity The Outward Bound Trust, in an effort to reduce the financial barriers that often go hand-in-hand with expensive outdoor sports. The North Face sells tents priced between £175 and £850, while a women’s ski jacket can cost up to £750.
Alongside members of The North Face’s NeverStop Community, they will be working with more than 1,600 young women from urban environments and actively promoting the benefits of outdoor activity to them – from rock climbing to mountain hikes to kayaking.
The North Face has also pledged to make changes within the company, including equal representation of women in all marketing and content and doubling its investment in the design and manufacturing of its apparel and kit for women.
Its efforts to be more inclusive can only be seen as a positive step for the brand, though it feels like The North Face has been slow to address decades-old issues around gender discrimination in advertising compared to other businesses – especially when it has had access to the plethora of female athletes it has chosen to showcase all along.
But Hines has stepped into her role at The North Face clutching her torch tightly, and is ready to shine a light on an area that has arguably been neglected up until now.
“What I love about this campaign is we made a conscious choice to shine a light on all of [our female athletes] all at once. We decided it was a great point in time not to have them [just] included in the overall mix, but to pull them all together and give them the opportunity to do something together,” Hines says.
“Yes, we’re doing it to shine a light on The North Face and the brand overall, but what an incredible opportunity we have to tell a story that there are incredible women out there doing incredible things.
“In future, we will have moments where we’re inclusive and broad and genderless as a brand. But there will also be cases where we do shine a light – in some cases it might be on women, in other cases we might shine a light on other things. The most important thing from our perspective is we continue to do things with an open and inclusive mind.”
Moving mountainous perceptions
Following stints at brands including Nike, Kipling and Napapijiri, Hines joined The North Face in January 2018.
She says she was drawn in by its “humble and human” athletes and the stories they tell – “around humanity and the choices that you make every day that are relevant for all of us” (hanging off of a cliff face thousands of feet above ground or not).
In line with the campaign’s urban focus, Hines is also on a mission to take the brand into the city and make it accessible to a broader range of consumers.
More than ever, consumers see when you’re just trying to talk at them, so you have to continue to be as sincere as possible so that the dialogue is genuine.
Kathy Hines, The North Face
“We’re still very much perceived as a mountain brand but I see the brand everywhere,” Hines says. “So from a long-term perspective what we see is an opportunity to grow in the mountains but also bring that relevance into the city. Our plans continue to focus on our strategy to embrace consumers across all walks of life.”
And Hines is prepared to make things uncomfortable to make sure it gets there.
“As leaders in this brand we don’t like to be comfortable because as soon as you’re comfortable and we start thinking we’re in a good place, we’re going to slow down,” she explains. “We’re always thinking three to five years out so we’re really sure that we’re future-proofing the brand.”
Right now, Hines says her biggest marketing challenge is making sure The North Face is seen as an authentic brand.
“More than ever, consumers see when you’re just trying to talk at them, so you have to continue to be as sincere as possible so that the dialogue is genuine, or you’re just not going to break through.”
This is why Hines says she would be reluctant to work with anybody that doesn’t “genuinely love” The North Face.
“The most important thing we look for when creating a dialogue is someone who can have an incredible connection with our brand, so it’s very important for us that they genuinely love The North Face,” she says.
“When we talk to someone, if it feels like they just want to engage with us because that’s what they do – because they are an ‘influencer’ – but they don’t have that personal connection with our brand, then it’s probably not a good fit.”