Now that U.S. consumers are finding it safer to return to pre-pandemic activities, The North Face wants to make sure they get outside. And that means everyone.
The outdoor apparel and retail brand is building on the announcement last fall of its Explore Fund Council, which coordinated a group of artists, explorers and outdoor recreation advocates dedicated to connecting ethnically diverse populations and communities to outdoor exploration and outdoor cultural opportunities. Now, it’s adding some new faces — and $7 million — to this initiative. The Explore Fund Council will address what The North Face sees as disparities in outdoor exploration. Its recommendations will guide $7 million in initial funding, globally, to “continue building equity in the outdoors and connecting people to the benefits of exploration.”
Eric Raymond, The North Face’s director of social impact and advocacy, told PYMNTS that the effort is consistent with the brand’s earlier efforts to build a more inclusive environment for its apparel, its 200-plus stores and its eCommerce site.
“A deep love of the outdoors has been part of The North Face DNA since the company’s founding,” Raymond said. “For 10 years, we’ve been working to reset the barriers to exploration and make it more accessible for all through our Explore Fund. 2020 proved the need to continue radically accelerating this work and to enlist the right external experts to help us do so.”
The council group is a “who’s who” of cultural and financial inclusion experts and activists. It will be led by Lena Waithe, an Emmy-winning screenwriter, producer and actor, and Jimmy Chin, team athlete, mountain climber and Academy Award-winning director (Free Solo).
In addition to adding council members to distribute grants for the initiative, the brand has stepped up its financial commitment. Since its creation, the Explore Fund has awarded about $500,000 a year over 10 years in $5,000 to $25,000 grants. Now, that number has been bumped up to $7 million to accomplish what the brand hopes will be an effort to “empower future explorers who are curious, interested and passionate about the outdoors — but may not have access to equipment, adventures or outdoors experts they can look up to and learn from.”
Why the increased funding? Raymond noted that the Explore Fund is critical, because access to the outdoors can be impaired by inequality. People of color, he said, are three times more likely than the average U.S. citizen to live in nature-deprived neighborhoods — and for many, the outdoors is not a safe environment.
“In the short term, the first thing the council will do is come together to ground themselves in the context of the work – learning, sharing and discussing,” Raymond said. “They will join external stakeholders to explore answers to the question: ‘How can we create and celebrate the unique ways we experience the outdoors, and how can we help build opportunities for more people to connect to exploration in those ways?’”
A good example of how the fund can work can be seen in last year’s Walls Are Made For Climbing campaign, which awarded grants to organizations like Paradox Sports and Coral Cliffs that work to provide more access to gyms in urban areas. The campaign featured exclusive apparel with its logo, as well as a virtual Global Climbing Day hosted by The North Face.
Raymond is urging retailers beyond his own brand to get involved. “There are so many wonderful organizations and nonprofits that have long been doing this work – like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Outreach, to name a few,” he said. “Retailers can consider how they support and invest in their local communities, particularly in engaging and providing outdoor opportunities to underrepresented groups, building new partnerships and programs with organizations and nonprofits already in the space, as well as funding organizations doing this important work. Everyone has a role to play in increasing representation and access to outdoor exploration, and every step – no matter how big or small – can make a difference.”