The North Face has staked its reputation on apparel and gear, and now its footwear department is catching up.
The company started developing footwear in 2006, but during the last year TNF has committed to reinvigorating the department with new hires and restructuring it to mirror the structure of its apparel department.
Brian Moore, vice president of global footwear for The North Face, said the company recognized that expanding its footwear line represented not only financial opportunity, but also addressed the needs of its athletes.
“Most of our athletes are doing significant expeditions and need technical products,” Moore said. “With the expeditions that they do, they need best-in-class footwear and we have an obligation to equip them …. Not having footwear was a little bit of a letdown for them.”
In part to better serve the athletes, the company stopped using outside designers and made a significant investment by hiring an internal team of designers and managers.
“When we initially launched [the footwear department], we launched it with outside design agencies,” Moore said. “What happened in the ensuing years was we tried to accelerate the growth but we didn’t have the investment we’ve made in the last 12 months in [product variety] and staff.”
Moore himself is a pretty fresh face at the company. And Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was the first show some product line directors attended with the company, after only a few months of employment. Moore previously held positions at New Balance, Saucony, Burton and Timberland.
Moore told SNEWS he didn’t know the exact number of new hires The North Face has made in the footwear department over the past year, but did said: “As we start to drive a bit more business we’ll be looking to reinforce teams with more talent investing both on the design side and production business."
Moore said the company had a lot of great footwear staff that’s still part of the team, but the department wasn’t as organized as others, such as apparel.
“We had a lot of people doing a lot of things,” Moore said. Now the department is organized like apparel – by activity teams. “What we did in the past 12 months was we built out a fully capable staff on each team – our performance, running, training, mountain teams.”
Each team has its own design, development and product management staff.
Throughout the reinvigoration of its footwear department, The North Face has tried to remain true to its brand promise to provide unrivaled performance and superior protection.
“In the world of apparel, they go hand-in-hand; in footwear they can contradict,” Moore said. He added that he believes the company has found technology that makes the brand promise in footwear.
Two of the newer hires are Paul Astorino, director of performance footwear; and Carey Platto, director of outdoor footwear. Astorino previously held positions at adidas, Asics and Nike, and Platto has previously worked with Patagonia, New Balance and Puma.
Astorino and Platto are the brains behind the company’s Cradle Guide technology that the company debuted at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
“We took the idea of minimalist – smooth and natural and low to the ground – for all the reasons that benefit an athlete,” Astorino explained, and then added two injected EVA foam plates (which are injected at the same time, at different densities) molded together so athletes have the softer foam plate closer to the foot for a custom-like, supportive cradle without the use of glue.
“If you take a traditionally constructed running or outdoor shoe with the second density the two pieces of EVA don’t break down consistently,” Astorino said. “The firm breaks down more slowly so the shoe sets up opposite of what it’s trying to do for the athlete. That’s the one thing Cradle Guide uniquely solves.”
The Cradle Guide, added Platto, is also what sets the company apart from competitors in the crowded footwear space.
“This will create a platform for our brand long term,” Platto said, and will be consistently employed in various ways for each of its footwear categories.
Moore said he doesn’t know how much of a financial gain the company has made exactly by investing in its footwear department, but he thinks it’s paying off so far.
“I think that with the feedback we’re getting on our product,” Moore said, “we’re off to a really good start.”