Proper Interview: Darren Shooter, The North Face

Having been mates with TNF Design Director Darren Shooter for quite a while now, Proper decided to catch up with one of it’s favourite jacket making geniuses for a bit of a chat. So read on to get the lowdown on all things The North Face related and see how a Proper piece on the TNF archives may well be on the cards….

Proper: The last time we met was in a busy cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on a grey Tuesday morning (those were the days!) and we discussed The North Face’s origins and their earth-conscious activism. Do you think people are aware of TNF’s ethical side? How important are environmental issues to the brand?

Darren:I’d love to be back in that café now!!!  One of our core brand values is to protect wild places and this has been a part of The North Face philosophy since we were founded in 1966. So, sustainability & conservation have always been a big part of The North Face DNA, and as a brand we constantly challenge ourselves to be as sustainable as possible, looking for new ways and methods to improve our approach. 

One of the ways we’re working to do this is through our ‘Clothes the Loop’ programme, diverting unwanted apparel and footwear from landfills. Customers bring in their unwanted clothing and shoes to a participating store and deposit the items in the display collection bin in return for a discount voucher. It’s now live in over 150 The North Face stores in Europe and North America and more than 30,000kgs of apparel and footwear have been diverted from landfills, which is a number we’re incredibly proud of but there is more to do! Additionally, by the end of 2020 all TNF Designers will have attended a circular design training course to help them create more circular product that can be repurposed & reused in the future. We are also launching collections made from leftover fabrics, scrap fabrics and plastic bottles collected from the Himalayas, to create amazing new products.

To answer your question… I’m not sure how aware people are of TNF’s ethical side but it’s something internally we challenge ourselves with on a daily basis. Are we perfect? For sure not, but we try our best to uphold our purpose.

TNF are something of a paradox in that they often reference mountain wear from the past to create cutting edge clothing that’s suited to urban life. TNF have done this and yet kept 100% credibility on both sides of the coin i.e. in the mountains and the metropolis, how have they achieved this?

We’ve been able to maintain our credibility in the mountains and the streets by always staying true to our mountain roots and not chasing urban trends. I believe consumers buy into the authenticity of TNF and they style it in their own unique way depending on the environment they are in. As a brand, we’re really proud to create timeless pieces that remain relevant throughout the seasons, conditions and environments. 

We’re now seeing more pieces constructed from TNF’s game changing Futurelight fabric. As a designer how have you found working with this brand-new technology?

From a design perspective, Futurelight has been amazing to work with as it allows us to have greater control over the amount of breathability we put into our products, depending on its final use. Futurelight has also allowed us to play around with different fabric weights and textures to create new aesthetics in our product.

What makes Futurelight so special? 

Futurelight is so special because it uses a revolutionary ‘nano-spinning’ technology in the construction of the waterproof/breathable membrane that is applied to the back of the fabric. This new technology allows us to make fabrics that breath at a completely new level while still staying completely waterproof. This means that the person wearing the jacket doesn’t have to keep opening/closing it when they are too warm as their body warmth is much better regulated. Furutrelight also has an incredibly soft hand feel so it’s super comfortable to wear and move around in.

We’ve already seen an amazing Futurelight version of the 1994 Mountain Light jacket, which other icons can we expect to see making a re-appearance soon?

We’re really happy how the 1994 Mountain Light Jacket came out. The colours look really vibrant and the style feels fantastic when you put it on. I don’t want to give too much away, but there will be more iconic styles like this coming soon…

What’s the TNF archive like? Can we come and have a look round one day?

The TNF archive is pretty big & eclectic as the brand goes back over 50 years! We have a mix of product split between our offices in Denver and Switzerland and we’re always discovering new treasures. In the 70’s our product range was quite small, so we have a lot of variants of Brown Label product, Mountain Parka’s and walking smocks like the Windjammer. As you go into the 80’s you start to see the birth of the early TNF Icons, starting with the 1985 Mountain Jacket and the insulated Lhotse which later evolved into the well-known Nuptse. The 90’s part of the archive becomes more experimental with collections like RAGE, Extreme & SteepTech all dropping within a few years of each other and then the late 90’s and early 2000’s see’s the birth of Summit Series. 

We definitely need to get you over for a tour soon…

Do you have any favourite pieces in the archive that you’d love to see making a comeback one day?

At the moment there are two areas of the archive I’m obsessed with. I love some of the first items we created back in the early 70’s just because they have such an honest, stripped down approach to outdoor gear. The colours, fits and trims we used back then were really beautiful and I’d like to reintroduce some of that minimalist, vintage styling.  I’m also fascinated with some of the early Summit Series product and how fresh such pioneering and overt design & technology is looking today.

How does the design process work, from taking an archive piece to the finished product?

Generally we try and remain as true as possible to our archive pieces and recreate them as authentically to the original garment as we can. We may add a couple of extra items into the modern collections to build up the storytelling, but the centerpiece will always remain close to the original. There may be subtle exceptions to this, for example we may have a better quality, modern day zipper which we prefer to use, or we may make a huge 90’s fit a little more tailored, but overall we try to keep things true.

It’s always a challenge recreating an archive piece as all the fabrics and trims have to be resourced & remade as they were in the past. It’s a fantastic experience though, to bring these old pieces back to life!

The lockdown has affected us all whether it’s kept us off the trail or out of the clubs, how have you been coping without being able to hit the mountains? 

As you say, the lockdown has massively affected us all and none of us have experienced anything like it. For me personally it has been really tough spending the majority of time in our apartment with two young kids, bouncing off the walls! We currently live in Southern Switzerland, so we’re really lucky to have a lot of quiet trails and forests around us, so we pick the occasional quiet moment to escape and take in some fresh air. 

Professionally, it’s been really hard not to be around the rest of the TNF crew, especially the Design Team. We are a really close team and spend a lot of time together, sharing ideas and building the collections. The lockdown has been a big exercise in remote working but I’m looking forward to getting back to some kind of normality and getting my hands on some real product instead of working via the internet!

What does the future hold for The North Face?

It’s so hard to answer that question whilst sat at home on lockdown! No one really knows what changes will come when this is all over and we start exploring again. Will things simply go back to how things were, or will things radically change? How will people shop? How will we embrace nature and the outdoors? What cultural & social changes will come from all this? It’s too early to say but these are the things that influence all brands, not just The North Face. 

One thing for sure, is that The North Face will continue to stay true to our roots and continue to provide amazing gear for people to explore in. Wherever that may be! 

Stay safe.


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