Too Much Coffee – The fleecing of America

By Evan Redmon

Everything has a tipping point – some moment in time when a seminal occurrence begets a trend. For The North Face, their tipping point happened in the year 2000, when the once-renowned manufacturers of high-level outdoor gear became just another sell out special, purchased by the world’s largest apparel company, Vanity Fair Clothing. For serious outdoor enthusiasts, this was like discovering that Burt’s Bees was bought by Clorox.

Oh, wait, that actually happened. Guess you can’t really blame Burt for that one, though. If someone offered to buy my company for $952 million in cash (Clorox’s actual paying price), I’d have to at least give it some serious consideration. And by serious consideration, I mean I’d blast 20 elderly nuns with a forearm to the jaw if they delayed the purchase by as much as a nanosecond. Not that elderly nuns are known for that type of thing, but you get the point.

For The North Face, their decision was likely just as easy. Eight years ago, TNF was in serious financial trouble. They had been operating at a loss for some time, and faced with an untenable negative capital shortage, their demise was just a question of “when” rather than “if.” Little wonder, then, that they chose to take VF’s offer of $2 a share, for a total of just over $25 million.

Who would have guessed that Burt’s Bees Wax was worth $927 million more than The North Face?

If one were to assess the overall value of The North Face franchise today, it would likely surpass the $25 million mark on the basis of one product alone: The Denali Jacket.

Which, actually, it isn’t really a jacket; it’s a fleece with some lining on the upper half of the body. But they call it a jacket, probably because it sells better that way.

And sell it does. There doesn’t seem to be an online listing for overall sales figures for the Denali, but one hardly needs to see any more proof that Denali’s are selling like hotcakes than to pay a visit to any college campus, at least one in the DC area. In fact, I’d venture to say that the Denali sells quite a bit better than hotcakes, seeing how I don’t even know what a hotcake looks like because I’ve never even seen a friggin’ hotcake in my entire life.

Along the brick lined streets of Georgetown, hordes of Hoyas could be seen this past week sulking in their Denali’s, after the men’s basketball team got exposed for the bunch of overrated saps that they are. In Foggy Bottom, George Washington students paraded around in their Denali’s like it was their own personal coat of arms. At American University, the streets of Tenly Circle are paved with the fuzzy little top with the dual TNF logo. Area high schools are no different; maybe even worse.

Basically, if you’re between the ages of 12 – 23, you’re nobody if you don’t own at least one Denali. And if it isn’t all black, you’re announcing to the world that you couldn’t find one in all black, and in an ill-advised act of fashion desperation, you went with – say it ain’t so – some other color. No one is fooled by your charcoal Denali, pal.

But it’s not just school-age whippersnappers that are knee deep in Denali mania. This past Saturday, I waited for a friend for about 15-20 minutes in my car along a busy section of Connecticut Avenue. To alleviate boredom, I engaged in a vigorously judgmental session of people-watching; it was then that I decided to actually count the Denali jackets.

Although I had noticed for some time that a lot of people were wearing them, it was shocking to discover just how many people were clad in this one-time fashion faux pas. True, it was perfect fleece weather – a chilly, not quite cold evening – but still, the numbers were pretty staggering. I determined that about 1 in 12 people were wearing some type of North Face jacket, and the overwhelming majority of those were sporting the all-black Denali.

In a little more than a quarter of an hour, as people meandered by along this densely populated stretch of night-life spots, I counted close to 75 black Denali’s, which works out to almost one every 12 seconds. That’s a lot of darkly fleecy people out there. Occasionally, a Denali Posse would appear, typically consisting of 4 – 6 Judeo-Italian looking girls ambling in raised chevron formation, all sporting their now familiar black-on-black synthetic uniform.

As the sheep herd milled their way up and down the sidewalk and in and out of drinking establishments, I couldn’t help but remember a barroom dissing I received many years earlier. A girl I was hitting on quickly jettisoned me with two simple words: “Nice fleece.” The accompanying laugh-of-pity put the nail in the coffin, and it was apparent that my furry, black and green selection from Eastern Mountain Sports was no Denali. Granted, I was in one of those Eurotrash bars where people smoke Galois cigarettes and order food that their cocaine usage renders unappetizing, so in retrospect, I’m surprised that I even got past the very gay, very bald, doorman whilst clad in fleece.

How, then, did the official outerwear of the slightly crunchy college kid become What to Wear when going out on the town? I don’t know; I never really did understand fashion.

I do know this: next time you are in the vicinity of a good outdoorsy store such as Hudson Trail Outfitters, walk in and ask if they have any North Face fleeces. Chances are, when you are directed to the vicinity of their display, there will be a middle-aged mom and her 15 year old daughter wearing a look of devastation upon her face after discovering that the all-black Denali’s are sold out.

“Green? Are you kidding me? You don’t have any more black ones? I hate you! My life is over!”

Cheer up kid, and keep looking. With a little luck and $165 of your soccer mom’s money, you can get your life back.

Evan Redmon gets a lot of spam. If you are not spam, please feel free to drop him a line at evanredmon@yahoo.com.

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