The North Face launched a new campaign and fellowship program that focuses on encouraging outdoor exploration.
The campaign commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Explore Fund, The North Face’s grant program that supports nonprofits that help people from all walks of life experience nature.
“We have a responsibility to enable people to get outside, explore and feel welcome in doing so,” said Steve Lesnard, global VP of marketing and product at The North Face.
The fellowship program, called the Explore Fund Council, brings in a diverse panel of experts across film, music and academia to create programs and develop new ways for the fund to support expanding access to the outdoors.
“We wanted to bring in new perspectives,” Lesnard said. “It's really important to challenge ourselves and bring in new thinking.”
Actor and director Lena Waithe and professional climber and director Jimmy Chin are on the founding council, which will focus on addressing racism in travel and exploration.
Communities of color are three times more likely to live in nature-deprived places, and face racism when they want to get outside and explore, Lesnard said.
The program will run annually with a new panel of experts focused on a specific issue identified yearly. This year’s program will focus on racism, for obvious reasons.
“We saw what was going on with COVID, the environment and social and racial injustice and thought that was just disturbing and not good enough,” Lesnard said. “It was really important to come out of this with a call to action.”
The fund will be supported by a brand campaign from The North Face, Reset Your Normal, by Sid Lee, that leans into its belief that this normal is no longer good enough.
The campaign is supported by a hero spot, narrated by Waithe and including a new song by Aloe Blacc, My Way, written during the Black Lives Matter movement this summer.
The campaign also includes testimonials from The North Face athletes pledging their commitment to exploration, as well as AR filters and GIFs that allow people to share their own pledges, and a TikTok challenge that encourages people to go outside.
The testimonials, filters and GIFs will run on Instagram, marking a return to the platform for The North Face, which was the first to join the Facebook ad boycott this summer. Instagram is owned by Facebook.
The North Face has returned to spending on Facebook’s platforms since the boycott, but is continuing to have “intense dialogues” about how to fix its problems, Lesnard said.
“We pivoted completely for two months, and we were blown away that we played a small role in a movement that made Facebook notice,” he said.
A lot of brands are searching for purpose these days, but The North Face believes it was able to authentically stand behind the boycott, and its new campaign, because of its commitment to equity through the Explore Fund over the past decade.
“When the NAACP asked brands to support their stance, it was an easy move for us to make,” Lesnard said.
The North Face is pleased with the engagement it sees from Facebook on the issue since the boycott and notes progress such as Facebook’s recent moves to remove anti-vax content and Holocaust denials.
“With the scale of the community they have, it's not moving as fast as we wanted,” Lesnard said. “But we decided to go back and partner with them to drive change.”
The North Face is owned by VF Corporation, which also owns brands including Vans and Timberland.
Correction: This story previously misstated that Color of Change reached out to The North Face about the Facebook ad boycott, not NAACP.