THE NORTH FACE -- One of the San Francisco Bay Area GROUP OF PIONEERS

The North Face 1974-75 Catalog was one of my personal all-time favorites

Hap Klopp (Dick Klopp) is perhaps the name most prominently associated with the arising of "The North Face" as the modern giant it has beome today. Hap was a Stanford School of Business graduate circa 1966. His business training there, and past hands-on experience running a family business, were being put to good use in efforts that he and some others were making to buy The Ski Hut in Berkeley from George Rudolph. That did not happen because Rudolph could not be convinced to sell.

Meanwhile, still in the Bay Area, and still within the same general time frame, another outdoor gear manufacturer was just getting launched. George Marks and Bob Swanson, who had been with the manufacturing branch of The Ski Hut called Trailwise, struck out in 1965 on their own and began Sierra Designs.

Duncan Dwelle (in picture below) remembers that he had involvements with both fledgling companies, having had a role in the original "North Face" retail store as early as May 1965, and, as part of that, being the staff person who "wrote the first three catalogs in '66-68." Later, in 1968, Mr. Dwelle "worked for a short time with Bob Swanson and George Marks setting up retail for Sierra Designs." In the picture, Duncan is modeling in the 1968-69 Sierra Designs catalog. He had suggested a photo shoot on the headlands in southern Marin County to Bob and George (the SD founders). It was a very low-budget affair, so here on the catalog's Mountain Parka page we have Duncan modelling the SD 60/40 and Reevair parkas with Jean, the (then) spouse of Bob Swanson. (go to Duncan Dwelle's website and learn more about his contributions to the Industry). Jean Martincich-Swanson.

Meanwhile, as time went by, Hap Klopp was still searching for an outdoor business to buy. Soon Hap shifted his focus to a new target. He remembers, "I bought The North Face, which was a retail store run by Doug Tomkins. TNF had no product of its own but private labelled products from George [Marks]. Tomkins [the original founder of the North Face name] had sold TNF to three people. Arne and Glen Hiersoux and Justus Bauschinger." (click here for Mr. Bauschinger's account of how all this took place).... The deal took many months of negotiations, but in May of 1968 Hap's offer to buy was accepted. Justus stayed on for awhile as Head Designer, but the Hiersouxs left... Meanwhile, Doug Tomkins and his wife Susie went on to found the highly sucessful company "Esprit." Many years later, Esprit picked up Moonstone.... Since the early 1990s, according to Wayne Gregory, Doug and his wife (the former Kristine McDivitt) are leaders in efforts to save our Planet through the creation of enormous eco-preserves, chiefly in temperate rain forests of South America (Chile). (search for "Foundation for Deep Ecology" and others for details)

Related material-- Justus Bauschinger was another ex-Ski Hut person; he had left The Ski Hut and was part of The North Face both before and after Hap bought it. He moved on to found the Bay Area company named Class Five in 1971.

Hap quickly moved to establish the North Face logo and trademark that still exist today, and swiftly created their own design and manufacturing operation, which was at first located in the back half of the newly set up Berkeley store. At the very first, the product line was an internal frame pack named the Ruth Sack, and a line of down sleeping bags (they did not continue to have Sierra Designs make products for them, but Hap and George Marks always remained good friends). TNF's first wholesale deals, masterminded by Jack Gilbert, were to two Portland, Oregon stores, Howell's and Cloud Cap Chalet. The company grew very fast and steadily and by 1981, had acquired the Colorado giant Holubar Mountaineering.

By 1988, annual gross sales had increased to $50 million. The North Face (TNF) remained under Hap up until 1989, when he sold it to another long-time gear pioneer Bill Simon, the man who had run Snow Lion many years before. Bill Simon had the company for awhile, but more recently it's ownership has become very complicated and very corporate. Their gear itself remains top-flight.

Please Note: All Material on this page, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com. Material here is derived from interviews and/or correspondence with Hap Klopp, some from Duncan Dwelle, some from Justus Bauschinger, and some from George Marks, founder of nearby Sierra Designs. Material about North Face tents came from Mark Erickson. Much material also is derived from Bob Woodward's articles in Gear Trends Magazine, in particular Summer 2007. Finally, Wayne Gregory of Gregory Packs has contributed information about Doug Tomkins.... Editors: Please contact me if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon. Sponsors: the History of Gear Project is soliciting a few quality sponsors to support its continued research and publication efforts.

"The dog may bark but the caravan moves on"

Mark Erickson was hired at The North Face in 1970, and went on to a long career there as Head Designer. Some of the tents elsewhere noted within the History of Gear website are his babies.

Collector's Note: if you find a sleeping bag in good condition with a label that says "Made for The North Face by Sierra Designs," you've got a real collector's item. It would date to a small time period in about 1965-67, and was likely directly made by one of the two founders of Sierra Designs!

The Current Status of the Founder and his pioneer company

Hap Klopp still lives in the Bay Area. He is heavily involved in a various roles in companies that could be loosely grouped into "outdoors-related." I would add the adjective "innovative." This is true of London-based "d3o," which makes "protection systems" for sports, military, law enforcement based on the special impact absorbing properties of a proprietary material named d3o.... And innovative is especially true in regards to a company named "Ardica" for which Hap is Executive Director. Ardica is developing working examples of "heat and power for apparel." An example would be a jacket or glove warmed by a fuel cell. George Marks is one of his collaborators on this project.

Hap has also taught classes about entrepreneurship and other business subjects. He has written books, the two that most caught my eye were "The Adventure of Leadership" (1992), and "The Complete Idiot's Guide: Business Management" (1997).

Hap told me, "I don't believe in retiring."

As mentioned previously, The North Face as a company continues to be highly successful. With massive growth, its structure is now far-removed from the genteel collection of independent-thinkers who first grew it in the late Sixties! Click for a look at it's ownership in recent times.


BOOK ALERTS: MY FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF GEAR WAS ABOUT FROSTLINE KITS. PLEASE VISIT MY FROSTLINE PAGE FOR A LINK TO ORDER IT, IN EITHER SOFT-BOUND OR HARD BOUND EDITIONS... The second book was released May 20, 2008 and is titled, "GERRY, To Live in the Mountains" (click on GERRY link below). The third book of the series covers the story of Holubar and was recently honored as one of the year's best "Local History" books at Chautauqua in Boulder, Colorado.... A fourth book was about the early years of MSR under its founder Larry Penberty, and a fifth book is about that most notorious of the early gear pioneers, Jack Stephenson of Stephenson's Warmlite Equipment Company... All the books feature major contributions from their founders or their Presidents.


 

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Main Page: Essays and pictures about the Pioneers of the Outdoor Gear Revolution, 1935-The Present, 45+ pages, five books about the History of Gear, and still ever-expanding!

One of the North Face's Coups, the World's First Backpacking Geodesic Tent, 1975

 

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Page last revised 1/30/2014 January 2014

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Justus Bauschinger's Account of the Origins of The North Face

Justus: "The North Face was a couple of retail stores (SF & Palo Alto) that Doug [Tomkins] started; when he was going broke, Arne & Glen Hiersoux and Justus Bauschinger bought the stores, mainly for the name, added a store in Orinda, and built a store with a small factory behind it on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. That's where I started the design & manufacturing for NF. Since I knew Hap Klopp from my Ski Hut days, and we were running out of dough, I invited Hap to join the venture, which he did. When it became apparent that we as a group didn't get along, the Hiersoux bros. left, and then I quit some months later, to start Class-5. I had hired and trained Mark Erickson as my understudy at NF, before I left---and to his credit, Mark became a damned fine designer and design director for NF thereafter. He and I remain friends to this day." 01/24/2014

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