Michael is the Vice President, Product and Marketing at The North Face. We recently sat down with him to talk about the work he and his team do at The North Face.
The North Face is part of VF Corporation, a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel, footwear, and accessories, with global iconic brands, such as The North Face®, Vans®, Timberland®, and more.
The company name “VF Corporation” is not well known but its brands such as The North Face and Eastpak are. Can you tell us a bit more about VF Corporation?
VF is the Parent Company of various globally well-known brands that play in 3 different fields: Outdoor, Active and Work. Besides The North Face and Eastpak you can find e.g. Vans, Timberland, Icebreaker and Altra in this portfolio.
What makes VF stand out is the purpose principles that we apply to all the different brands within the corporation. We are committed to be more than just an apparel and footwear company. We strive to be a force for good in the world. It’s what people expect of us, and what we expect of ourselves.
This mission challenges each employee in each of the different brands to empower movements of sustainable and active lifestyles that are there for the betterment of the people and our planet.
How has your role evolved since you started at The North Face?
My first role at The North Face was on the merchandising side. Step by step more responsibilities were added throughout the years; from overseeing all product merchandising functions, to the added responsibility of the design and development team and then my move into the role of VP for Marketing and Product.
It was really a natural progression where VF trusted & invested in my talent and gave me new responsibilities along the way, as my career progressed. And while in my case the progression was always within The North Face, the special thing about VF is that there are also opporunities to build your career across the various brands we own.
Our large portfolio of brands allows us to promote talent not only within the brand but within the whole company. When I moved into my new role I was looking for my successor on the product merchandising side, and we brought in talent from the VANS team rather than looking for someone externally.
What kind of profiles compose your product team?
Our product team is split in 3 teams: the design team, the development team and the product merchandising team.
The design team has mostly apparel based designers, though we are also looking more and more for digital design capabilities here.
In the development team you have all the technical functions combined that “touch” the product throughout the creation process. We are talking about patternmakers here, trim & fabric developers, material managers, fit engineers and the developer of the garments itself. Digital development capabilities are becoming more and more important here.
The third team is product merchandising, in which you have the most diverse backgrounds. This team creates the architecture of the product range and briefs the RD&D team. Their ultimate responsibility is to bring the right product at the right time in the right volume at the right price point into the right channels.
They are the custodians that interact between the pure product creation and the marketing, retail & sales side.
In this team you will find people with a marketing, sales or RD&D background. But the team has also people that come from retail: after working in stores they bring the experience from interacting daily with the consumer or bring the pure product user experience from working as a mountain guide before.
What kind of profiles compose your marketing team?
Our marketing team is also split in 3 teams: creative, brand and channel marketing.
The creative team has all the various creative functions that ensure we show up in front of the consumer in a disruptive, premium and brand-consistent way. This encompasses the whole marketing-funnel, from the way a video looks, to how the store appears, down to the hanger of the product and the product description itself.
This team consists of retail-architects, copywriters, graphic designers and content managers.
The brand team is the keeper of the brand: they brief the creative functions, build the seasonal calendar, manages external teams like Athletes and the Explorer team and defines the tone & voice in which we interact with our customers. They are the storytellers who build an emotional connection.
The brand team is dominated by marketing specialists, and they often worked at a brand or marketing agency before.
The channel marketing team brings the work of the other two teams to life within our stores and those of our retail-partners. They have daily interactions with retailers and build bespoke campaigns with them.
Channel marketeers are marketeers who come with a generalist background or with a specialist focus on the digital marketing side. But this team also has certain visual merchandising functions.
What product you launched are you most proud of?
I would actually not pick a product but our recent “EXPLORE WITHOUT COMPROMISE” initiative.
I believe this connects everything that VF and The North Face stands for; it encompasses the brands commitment to sustainability under the VF Umbrella of how we power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. Personally, I am very passionate about this topic, so having a company like VF in the background that not only supports but actually expects you to think how you can create an ever-smaller footprint of this planet makes me very proud to work at The North Face, for VF.
EXPLORE WITHOUT COMPROMISE is a tagline where all functions come together, so it is not only about creating sustainable product, but also circularity projects like our new launched RENEWED Program that gives old and damaged products a new life to explore again.
VF Corporation is a very international company. How are the responsibilities divided among the different countries and the central organization?
Our European headquarter in Switzerland is the central coordinator for Europe, though we have local offices where our regional sales & marketing specialists are working. This is important as we can be close to local stakeholders and have true local experts in the different countries.
They adapt the central developed marketing campaigns and ensure these campaigns resonate with the target audience and customer in their respective area.
The North Face is investing in extra capabilities at the European level to complement the global product offering. Can you give use some background?
The European outdoor market is the most dynamic in the world, so to have the capabilities on the RD&D side to create local relevant products is a big plus and one of the key drivers of The North Faces success in Europe.
We are continuously building out this capability, especially on the side of true digital product creation. Regional developed styles, built to fill slots that are not covered from the global product offering, allow us to drive a globally strong brand message while being hyper relevant on a local level.
How does The North Face look at e-commerce vs the traditional physical stores?
COVID accelerated our thinking and actions around our digital initiatives, and our e-commerce platform is one of these.
We already began a transformation into a consumer focused, retail centric and hyper digital operator a few years ago, and we continue to drive investments into this. Though this doesn’t mean that there is no place anymore for physical stores, quite the opposite.
Rather than only be a place to drive a transaction, the stores will transform into a temple of the brand, where the brand enthusiast can experience the full spectrum of what the The North Face is and stands for. It will become a more seamless brand-world using the best of both channels.