The North Face Renewed Launches Design Residency & Upcycled Auction
Senior outerwear designer talks inspirations for and limitations of upcycling, sustainability, and saving used gear from the landfill
The North Face
Alex Rakestraw is a writer, strategist, and creative based in New York. He once had a nightmare about a lost coat.
Today, The North Face launched the evolution of its recommerce program Renewed. Deemed the “Renewed Design Residency,” the brand’s new initiative grants TNF designers the opportunity to visit third-party apparel upcycler The Renewal Workshop as part of a bi-annual seminar. The goal: bring circular and reduced-impact design thinking to the earliest parts of the design process.
With this program, The North Face bolsters its Renewed used gear program (originally launched in June 2018) to join a growing trend of “upcycling” within the outdoors industry. Perhaps the highest profile of the lot is Patagonia’s WornWear Recrafted program, which launched in November 2019 to piggy back off the successful Worn Wear initiative, that debuted online in permanent form in September 2017. Both market places now offer custom, one-off rebuilt pieces alongside previously owned garments that have been cleaned and certified for resale. And to date,
Other brands embracing similar environmentally and socially responsible efforts include Arc'teryx's reselling platform Rock Solid, Cotopaxi's Repurposed Collection, and adidas TERREX's ongoing partnership with Parlay, which makes functional textiles from plastic pulled from the oceans.
To celebrate the Residency’s launch, the Denver-based outdoors brand is auctioning a limited collection of one-of-one apparel items handmade by North Face designers who attended the pilot, with all proceeds benefiting The North Face Explore Fund, an initiative that provides grants to nonprofits focused on environmental stewardship and community growth.
(Pieces from the Renewed Design Residency are now live at auction.)
Field Mag sat down with Senior Designer of Lifestyle & Performance Outerwear Kellen Hennessy, a participant of the program, to learn more about her experience and the exclusive Renewed Design Residency apparel.
Could you tell us more about what the Design Residency is and looks like?
The Residency was inspired by the Renewed program. A colleague and I were able to go visit The Renewal Workshop last year, and we were amazed and impacted by our visit. It’s one thing to know the metrics around textile waste [according to the EPA, every year 85% of all textiles produced winds up in a landfill], but it was eye-opening to actually see the amount of apparel that gets collected.
Being on the design side, it struck home that we have a responsibility to understand the lifecycle of a garment so we can affect it as we’re creating product. The idea of an immersive residency where designers could go, spend a week there, learn, get their hands dirty, then take those learnings and apply them at scale felt like the perfect opportunity.
Where do the materials for these Renewed Design Residency garments come from?
We pulled them all from materials at The Renewal Workshop, who receives them from our distribution centers. Lots of damaged and defective merchandise ends up there. We didn’t introduce any vintage pieces—it was all pulled from what they deem as “second tier,” or “irreparable” product. We were trying to keep that material in circulation by repurposing it.
For example, there was a navy blue McMurdo Jacket that we utilized all of the pockets and cuffs from for the pieces that ended up in the auction. All that was left was just the down and shell.
What inspires you as a designer as you approach upcycled pieces?
Most designers enjoy problem solving, and this is sort of the ultimate test of that. You have limited materials with unique challenges. What’s the best way to maximize them? It’s like putting a puzzle together with apparel—and that’s challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun and lets you have more creative freedom than you might have with a more commercialized brief.
I noticed that the garments in this collection are fleece and insulation—why not work with materials on the laminate performance side too?
There’s definitely some reconstruction challenges there. Laminated fabrics are challenging. If you have to do any sort of re-seaming, you have to re-seam seal, and that’s just not a capability we have with The Renewal Workshop. We’re looking at ways to integrate patch repairs rather than re-seaming.
Down is challenging since, as anyone who snags a jacket knows, down just wants to go everywhere. You have to be mindful and careful of how things are being taken apart, and that’s another place we have more learning to do as we look at potentially scaling in the future.
How do pieces like these fit into the broader “upcycled” fashion landscape?
We’re curious to see where they fit in. We [The North Face] haven’t put anything like this up there before. The auction pieces are all hand-reconstructed and completely one-of-a-kind so they do have an elevated feeling to them, but since it’s all damaged product from our brand, they also feel familiar and wearable. They have a very specific North Face DNA to them.
Ultimately, our whole design team will do the Residency, so you’ll have different points of view coming through each time. One session might be our Performance team, so things will have a more technical vibe. Then another might be our Urban Exploration team, so it’d be more streetwear.
The first round of items from The North Face Renewed Design Residency are now live at auction, with bidding period ending Wednesday, 12 February. A second set of custom-made garments will be auctioned from 12 February through 19 February.