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The North Face renames its fleece jackets and honors the Sherpa people

This fall, The North Face is removing the word “sherpa” from the name of its fleece jackets, taking the opportunity to highlight the heritage of the Sherpa people.

The collection, which was called Sherpa Fleece Jackets and Vests, will now be called “Pile” Fleece, as will all of the company’s fleece products going forward.

“We recognized the origins of the term ‘sherpa’ and how it was applied to the fashion industry,” Eric Raymond, director of social impact for The North Face, told NBC News.

A women’s High Pile Nuptse jacket from The North Face.The north face

The Sherpa people, which means “people of the East” in Nepali, are an ethnic group that lives along the border between Tibet and Nepal. Most live in the surrounding regions of the Himalayas, mainly in the eastern regions of Nepal. They are generally known for their excellent trekking skills and are considered expert mountaineers.

The synthetic fabric used in the brand’s jackets, which imitates real shearling or sheep’s wool, resembles the wool-lined garments worn by the tribe.

The North Face credited the Sherpa people with helping guide company athletes for decades on expeditions to the Himalayan mountains.

The company enlisted The North Face Global Athlete Dawa Yangzum Sherpa and a friend of the brand, who are both Sherpa, to represent their culture as Nepalese Americans and how much the outdoors means for them.

“I love being born in Nepal and I have all that culture behind me. But at the same time, being in the American culture introduced me to the outdoor world. And now, using the outside world, I can connect with both cultures,” Shrestha said in the video.

The North Face isn’t the only company to use the word “sherpa” to describe products. Companies like Levi’s, UGG and ASOS are among those using the term.

Henry Navarro, multidisciplinary designer and associate professor of fashion at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Creative School, said The North Face’s decision to change its name and highlight the Sherpa people is a step in the right direction.

He said the expeditions that have taken place in the region could not have taken place without the knowledge and traditions of the Sherpa people, including important clothing for keeping warm during treks.

“Sherpa people traditionally wore fur indoors because it created an air pocket that insulates.”

Henry Navarro, Metropolitan University of Toronto

“Sherpa people traditionally wore the fur on the inside because it created an air pocket that insulates” while the smooth suede side was used on the outside to protect against the wind, Navarro said.

“They shared this knowledge with all these explorers, and it was never fully acknowledged,” he said.

Tibetan New Year celebrated in Nepal
Nepali women from the Sherpa community wear traditional dress during the Tibetan New Year in Kathmandu, Nepal, February 26, 2020.Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Navarro said the conversation about cultural appropriation and recognition rarely comes up within the outdoor lifestyles community.

“The outdoor lifestyle owes a huge debt to Indigenous peoples. All of these businesses are majority white-owned. When you see all the advertisements for outdoor businesses, you very rarely see a black person or a brown person. So it reinforces the stereotype that people of color aren’t outdoor savvy. And that’s just not true,” he said.

“The outdoor lifestyle owes a huge debt to Indigenous peoples.

Henry Navarro, Metropolitan University of Toronto

Navarro said that because people of color come from places with extreme climates, their history includes clothing to deal with different environments.

“So when you see parkas, it’s an invention of Native Americans. When you see cowboy clothing, a lot of those items were actually created in Latin America or Mexico or California – when it was part of Mexico,” he said.

Raymond said The North Face’s decision to make this change also comes amid conversations about cultural appropriation.

“You can point to broad cultural conversations and just a growing interest in making sure brands are authentic, making sure appropriation isn’t something that happens inside your business,” a- he declared.

He said that since the beginning of the company’s relationship with the Sherpa people, the company has taken steps to uplift the community.

Raymond said the company has also supported the establishment of an education and training center in Nepal, as well as the American Himalayan Foundation and Stop Girl Trafficking, which helps combat the trafficking of young girls in Nepal by education.

“We’re not saying it’s an offensive term in a broad sense,” he said. “We just wanted to be more true to our own connection to the community. And we wanted to have a better reflection of that.”

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