But they definitely flooded the market with every shade of fleece jacket, though, once they convinced high school girls it was a mandatory accessory. At that end of the market, it's become more of a badge or trend product, as others note below.
I recall their founder (who's name I don't recall) laments their broad commercial expansion of the past decade or so. He's a central figure in the documentary "180 degrees South," which for all it's Birkenstock wearing tree hugger-ness, is worth watching. The eye feasts on the scenery.
I think the founder cashed out somewhere along the way and has since bought an incomprehensible amount of land in Patagonia (the region not the brand). He also married the ex-wife of the founder of Patagonia (the brand, not the region), Yvon Chouinard, who remains a close friend.
Here's the trailer
wear while in Europe. In Italy in February 2008, 75% or more of every group of American kids was wearing the same black North Face jacket.
"Mom? Can I get a North Face jacket to express my individuality? Everyone is doing it!"
That may go aways towards responding to your question.
Just absolutely superb products.
Then again, I get so much free Patagonia stuff through work conferences that it's hard to stay objective. Free is hard to beat.
But the quality is pretty solid.
I have a Patagonia jacket from 1987 that is still going strong today.
Very high quality, very warm, and very well designed.
...Patagonia, Rab, Outdoor Research, Columbia, LL Bean, Salomon, Sierra Designs to name a few of the most widely available brands offering comparable quality and pricing in softshell jackets.
Wildly outstrip North Face on the price point. I have found mountain hardware, outdoor research, and arcteryx to be significantly more expensive for similar items.
You'll pay around $100-150 for a good everyday lightweight softshell/fleece, around $250 for an all-purpose outdoor activity ready softshell, and a small fortune for mountaineering gear. It's pretty much the same pricing structure. TNF sells more in the lower end of that pricing structure, but if that is what you are looking for then other companies, like Marmot or Columbia or Helly Hansen will offer comparable variety of styles in that price range.
But I can walk into a mall anywhere in the country and try on a North Face jacket. Not really the same thing with clothing from LL Bean (which I also like).
But, both companies do have more products than just jackets. I won't answer for anyone else, but I hesitate to buy clothes online that I have not at least tried on before.
and the outlet stores are spreading (not to Ohio -- please)
Pretty simple really.
Wildly popular with simple styling, but most importantly it just works damn well at a solid price (bit more than a bargain brand, but no one mistakes it for a luxury item).
Despite the fact that it performs its job perfectly, it's of course positioned to be ridiculed by the Back Room for being so popular and the purchase thereof implies a lack of style /individuality /etc.
It is quite a bit more than a bargain brand.
We just got our G13 a North Face jacket. Not surprisingly, she wanted one because lots of kids are wearing them. We checked out Columbia first on the belief that you could get every bit as good a jacket for significantly less. The comparable Columbia jacket, however, was essentially the same price as the North Face jacket.
that does the job down to about 20 degrees, and $300 for a real winter coat. They are probably the two highest-quality things I own. The winter coat cannot be put on until the second I leave the house, or I will risk heat stroke.
Maybe other brands do a similar job, but I've never felt I overpaid for North Face stuff. It's excellent.
Paint is one in particular. Coats and winter coats specifically are another. We've always purchased cheaper coats for our kids just because they needed new ones every year. But I wore a Patagonia coat for over 15 years. It was embarrassingly expensive but lasted forever such that it turned out to be a very good deal.
We were okay shelling out more for a new coat for G13 because she has done most of her growing (we think) such that she can have this coat for several years if not more. North Face makes really good coats. I'm not sure if North Face has lowered its prices or Columbia has raised its, but the costs were very similar.
depths of winter.
Those Inner Mongolian winters can be brutal.
All my adventures are true. I have pictures.
Companies start out being niche players, making some sort of specialized clothing. If they are successful there, they eventually figure out that there sales growth will be limited until they break out of their niche and market to a broader demographic than cave divers or artic kayakers. They stop selling sporting goods and start selling a lifestyle. Sometimes, as with A&F, Eddie Bauer, or AEO, any pretense of providing outdoor gear is abandoned, sometimes they coexist, but the quality of the outdoor wear deteriorates as it is marketed broadly (recently, Keen). North Face is not really a surprise though, they were never a great niche player (softshell jackets are their forte and are a great mass market product), they made good outdoor gear, though I never found it to be top quality or very innovative (at least in the 20 years I've been noticing such things).
sport look took off. The North Face benefited from the category growth and took of even more because of the efficacy of their fleeces and coats, which were incredibly warm. That caused demand to soar, and the very useful fleeces became status symbols rather than purposeful apparel.
The trend was really from 1999-2003.
...went out of style, and they never left. Remember CB jackets in the 80s?
I can promise that it was insanely popular among Michigan prepsters in the late 1990s.
Got one of their fleeces at the Navy Exchange for $75 back in 2007. It's been my go-to jacket ever since.
They take their lifetime warranty seriously. I'm on my 2nd free shell. I bought a Mountain Light jacket in high school, abd tore it skiing 5 years later. Sent it to them, and they sent me the current version. This was about 2002.
I had that shell until about 2008, when the Gore-tex lost its ability to bead water. It still didn't come through, but it would soak into the fabric and take a long time to dry out. Called, they said send it in, and they sent me another new one.
They make good stuff...I have a 10 year old TK100 I still run in although on a recent trip to San Francisco I noticed that every other person had a NF jacket on so it's certainly trendy.
their jackets and fleece are freaking warm.
Kept me warm in pitch black, -20 weather.
I wear North Face gear when skiing, when running ultramarathons, and on my recent 4 day Inca Trail hike. It's warm, reliable, and warrantied. In short, I'm a huge fan.
Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about your Inca Trail trip? I'm going in March. Email attached. Thanks so much!
Though you didn't ask. Llama Path. Ridiculous name, excellent company.
I wore a bit of north face gear on my trek too, but the item that got the compliments from rangers and other park personnel (who I wager see more whiteys in high performance outerwear than anyone else in the world) was from Lululemon.
I think recommended by someone else on this board, now that I think about it.
Questions I have, in case others would be able to weigh in:
How important is it to have boots with ankle support? I have a great pair of Merrill hiking shoes that are well-broken in, and I don't do a ton of hiking, so I'm hesitant to spend the money on another pair of shoes that I wouldn't use much, plus they'd need to be broken in as well. (Also, they'd be pretty bulky to carry around the rest of my trip.) I'll have a porter to carry most of my things, so I'll just have a day pack. I'm thinking I might just get a couple of light-weight ankle braces to use if it seems necessary when I get there. I'm not sure if that makes sense, or if I'm just being cheap and stubborn.
Also, how much of the trail involves walking right next to very steep drop-offs? I'm not terrified of heights, and it won't talk me out of going or anything, but it would be nice to know in advance so I can psych myself up for it.