The North Face is a manufacturer and distributor of outdoor-related clothing, footwear, and related equipment.
The company, which is now headquartered in Alameda, California, was founded in 1968 by husband-and-wife duo Douglas and Susie Tompkins. The couple later went on to start fashion brand Esprit after they sold The North Face in 1970 to businessman Kenneth “Hap” Klopp.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the northern side of any given mountain is normally the coldest and most formidable route to climb. The founders thought that the name would best reflect its mission to cater to extreme sports enthusiasts.
Products of The North Face can be purchased via its website, eCommerce stores like REI, or via its own physical retail stores.
The North Face was sold to VF Corporation for $25.4 million in April 2000. VF itself owns and runs a variety of brands such as Dickies, Eastpak, Supreme, Timberland, Vans, and more.
Around 3,500 people are currently employed by The North Face, which sells its products in almost every country in the world.
For the fiscal year 2021, VF generated $9.2 billion in revenue. Out of that sum, around $2.5 billion could be attributed to The North Face (Vans is its leading revenue generator with $3.5 billion). Revenues decreased by 9 percent from the year prior due to the Covid pandemic.
VF itself is valued at around $20.5 billion. Given that The North Face makes up around 27 percent of its revenue, it can be assumed that The North Face could be roughly valued at $5.5 billion.
Competitors of The North Face are ranked based on a variety of factors. These can include data points such as the revenue generated, products sold, number of employees, valuation, and anything in between.
This analysis should not be considered as a recommendation to make a purchase. It is merely a summary of all the competition that The North Face is confronted with as of today. Additionally, we only look at outdoor brands that are primarily known for producing clothing.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 10 competitors of The North Face.
Headquarters: Ventura, California, United States Founder(s): Yvon Chouinard Year Founded: 1974
Patagonia, when it comes to sheer awareness and brand strength, is certainly one of the fiercest competitors to the North Face.
The DNA of Patagonia is grounded in its social purpose. For example, it donates one percent of its profits to non-profit environmental groups. It also rejects fast fashion. As a result, it not only produces long-lasting products but even offers a repair and reuse program.
Patagonia remains in private ownership. Previous reports, which were released prior to the pandemic, have pegged its annual sales at $1 billion. It, furthermore, employs over 2,500 people.
Ironically and tragically, Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face, died in December 2015 during a kayaking trip in Patagonia, Chile.
2. Columbia Sportswear
Headquarters: Portland, Oregon, United States Founder(s): Paul Lamfrom Year Founded: 1938
When it comes to sheer revenue and sales numbers, then Columbia Sportswear is probably one, if not the leading brand in the outdoor sports industry.
Columbia started out selling hats but by the mid-1950s had expanded into outerwear items such as skiwear. Today, it sells more than 5,000 styles.
Its continuous growth allowed it to go public in 1998, raising around $100 million in the process. It is now valued at close to $6 billion.
For the fiscal year 2021, Columbia Sportswear generated $3.1 billion in revenue, up 25 percent from the year prior. Profits rose by a whopping 445 percent to $450.5 million. Its profitability has allowed the company to employ over 10,000 people.
It has to be noted, though, that the above-mentioned revenue and profit numbers also entail Columbia’s other brands it owns such as Sorel, prAna, and Mountain Hardwear.
3. Canada Goose
Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario, Canada Founder(s): Sam Tick Year Founded: 1957
Canada Goose, which began life as Metro Sportswear, was initially a working-class brand targeted at laborers in Canada.
Its now-famous jackets have also been part of some impressive excursions such as being used at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station or when Laurie Skreslet became the first Canadian to summit Mt. Everest.
While Canada Goose caters to a more affluent customer base, it nevertheless has managed to become one of the leading brands in the outdoor space.
In 2013, Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in the company, which went public in March 2017, raising $250 million in the process.
For the fiscal year 2021, Canada Goose generated $903.7 million in revenue, slightly down from the $958.1 million it recorded the year prior. It is currently valued at around $2.5 billion. Canada Goose only operates 20 retail stores but employs over 1,500 people.
Headquarters: Épagny-Metz-Tessy, France Founder(s): Georges Salomon Year Founded: 1947
Salomon made a name for itself by producing and selling ski binders. By the mid-1970s, it became the world’s leading binding brand.
The company eventually expanded into alpine boots and other types of outdoor equipment. Its first clothing line was released in 2001 and officially marked the shift towards Salomon becoming a fashion company.
Salomon was purchased by Adidas in 1997, then sold to Amer Sports, which also owns Arc’teryx, Atomic, Wilson, and other brands, for €485 million in 2005. Adidas abandoned its ski equipment and clothing lines when it sold Salomon.
The company currently employs close to 3,000 people and has 190 retail locations across the world. Unfortunately, Amer Sports was delisted in late 2018 after being sold to Anta Sports, which means it does not file income reports anymore. As a result, revenue and profit numbers for Salomon are currently not available.
5. Jack Wolfskin
Headquarters: Idstein, Hessen, Germany Founder(s): Ulrich Dausien Year Founded: 1981
Another one of the leading outdoor brands that originated outside of North America is Germany-based Jack Wolfskin.
For the first 12 years of its existence, Jack Wolfskin had only supplied other specialist stores. In 1993, it opened its first store.
The company changed hands multiple times. Most recently, Callaway Golf Company had acquired Jack Wolfskin for €418 million in November 2018.
For the fiscal year 2021, Callaway, which also has its own namesake brand focused on golf and owns other brands like Odyssey, generated around $3.1 billion in revenue. Of that, $817 million can be attributed to the ‘Apparel, Gear and Other’ segment, which includes the Jack Wolfskin, TravisMathew, and portions of the Callaway brand.
Moreover, Jack Wolfskin employs over 1,400 people who are mostly employed across the European region where its brand is the strongest. It, furthermore, operates close to 500 retail stores.
Headquarters: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Founder(s): Dave Lane, Jeremy Guard Year Founded: 1989
Another Amer Sports-owned property is Arc’teryx, which got its name from the Archaeopteryx lithographica, the first reptile to develop feathers for flight (i.e., the first bird).
Arc’teryx’s success stems from selling Gore-Tex jackets to ambitious climbers and mountaineering enthusiasts but eventually expanded its product offering into all kinds of clothing.
Arc’teryx was actually sold to Salomon in 2001 and switched hands two more times after the Amer Sports and Anta Sports purchases went through.
The company currently operates 75 stores across the world and employs over 1,500 people. Revenue and profit numbers, just like with Salomon, are unfortunately not made available to the public.
Headquarters: Kent, Washington, United States Founder(s): Lloyd Anderson, Mary Anderson Year Founded: 1938
REI, short for Recreational Equipment, Inc., is a co-op that was started after the Andersons imported an Akadem Pickel ice axe from Austria to partake in The Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course. They then set up a co-operative to aid other outdoor enthusiasts to purchase quality equipment.
The Andersons managed to recruit 21 of their friends who each paid $1 for a lifetime membership. That co-op has now grown to 20 million lifetime members, about 15,000 employees, and 168 retail locations which are mostly based in the United States.
Apart from offering other brands, such as The North Face or Patagonia, the company has also developed its own clothing line called REI Co-op. Owning one, if not the largest online shop for outdoors, consequently allows REI to push its own products.
Headquarters: Park City, Utah, United States Founder(s): Jim Holland, John Bresee Year Founded: 1996
Backcountry.com is one of the leading online retailers of outdoor equipment, which distributes other as well as its own clothing brand.
The company’s ownership changed multiple times, most recently when it was sold to TSG Consumer Partners in July 2015. An acquisition price was not disclosed.
Around seven million people visit its website every month. Moreover, Backcountry operates four retail stores and employs a little over 1,000 people.
Headquarters: Rohnert Park, California, United States Founder(s): David Huntley, Eric Reynolds, Lock Miller Year Founded: 1971
Marmot was founded by students of U.C. Santa Cruz who founded the Marmot Club, a social club for mountaineering enthusiasts.
The founders began by making parkas and sleeping bags in their dorm rooms. In 1976, they became the first outdoor apparel company to utilize Gore-Tex. Over the next few decades, Marmot continued to expand its product line and now sells hundreds of different designs.
Marmot became part of Newell Brands in 2016 which acquired Marmot’s then-parent company, Jarden Corp., for $16 billion.
Newell generated $10.6 billion in revenue for the fiscal year 2021 but did not disclose how much of that could be attributed to Marmot. The company currently employs around 200 people and operates three retail stores.
Headquarters: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Founder(s): Kevin Boyle Year Founded: 1983
KÜHL, initially dubbed Alfwear, is one of the few long-lasting companies in this list that has managed to stay independent throughout its existence.
The company started out by selling ski hats but within less than a decade began to pivot into other categories such as jackets.
KÜHL, which employs over 200 people, works together with thousands of retail stores that sell its products. Apart from retail partners, KÜHL also sells its clothes online via its own website.
Apart from the brands mentioned above, there are hundreds of other companies in the outdoor apparel space that compete for consumer pockets.
While not specifically known for their outdoor styles, sportswear powerhouses such as Adidas, Nike, or Under Armour are surely able to give The North Face a run for its money. Adidas, for example, has a dedicated outdoor section in which it sells shoes, climbing gear, jackets, and more.
There is, furthermore, a plethora of outdoor products that simply didn’t make the cut. These include brands like YETI, Helly Hansen, Fjällräven, and more.
On top of that, direct-to-consumer brands like Cotopaxi have managed to secure tens of millions in venture funding to disrupt the market.
Lastly, there are also many brands that focus on selling only one product. For instance, Forsake specializes in hiking boots while Osprey is known for its sturdy bags.
Competitive Advantage Of The North Face
The North Face possesses various competitive advantages such as extremely high brand recognition as well as distribution power.
The company has become synonymous not only with outdoor apparel but with the wider fashion zeitgeist.
It now owns many product lines that are now almost considered iconic. This includes both its down jackets as well as duffle bags.
In the past, The North Face had also released collaborations with a variety of luxury brands including Gucci or Extra Butter.
Additionally, it released products in partnership with other VF-owned brands such as Supreme, Timberland, or Vans.
Talking about VF, it can be assumed that being part of a larger organization also vastly improves its ability to get products out to consumers. VF is not only very experienced in launching and running retail stores but it can likely negotiate better terms with other retailers due to its sheer size.
It can be concluded that The North Face, whether it comes to revenue generated or people employed, remains one of the leading outdoor apparel brands out there.
From a brand strength perspective, it is certainly challenged by the likes of Patagonia. Sales-wise, it only trails Columbia Sportswear.
Nevertheless, the competition it faces, both from established brands as well as new DTC upstarts, remains fierce.