Transitions: Doug Tompkins

Doug Tompkins founded North Face, the iconic outdoor company. Throughout his life, he was true to a generous, conservationist ethic.
Doug Tompkins founded North Face, the iconic outdoor company. Throughout his life, he was true to a generous, conservationist ethic.

Transitions: Doug Tompkins (2o March 1943-8 December 2015).  Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face (one of the world’s premier outdoor clothing/equipment companies) and the very trendy retail chain Espirit(which he later sold , died on 8 December 2015 in a kayaking incident in Patagonia in Chile. He had an accident while kayaking with close friend (and fellow outdoor equipment entrepreneur, Yvon Chouinard) in heavy waves and was immersed in water that was at 4 degrees Celsius; despite being airlifted by Chile to a hospital, Tompkins dies of hypothermia. You can  read a harrowing, eyewitness account of the accident that took one of conservation’s most important people via this link.
Doug Tompkins was a major factor in retailing and built two very successful companies but he ultimately grew disillusioned with corporate and commercial activities and devoted the later part of his life to conservation and preservation of great patches of land in South America. He used his fortune to buy over 2.2 million acres of land, which he turned into private parks. Tompkins had, throughout his entire life, been an outdoorsman, alpinist, climber, adventurer, conservationist.
More importantly–and the soul of the matter–is that Tompkins was the real thing: his intentions were pure, his commitment deep, he put his money where his mouth was. He stepped up to a plate that others would have avoided. He made an impact that will be felt for centuries in his preservation of land in South America. Read more about Tompkins in this terrific piece from The Guardian and then get an intimate take on Tompkins from his lifelong friend, Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard and Tompkins represent a very unique brand of businessman/capitalist, entrepreneurs who believe in the inherent goodness of people and  the ability of companies to do good, and who back up their beliefs with their corporate mission statements and their capital. There are not nearly enough of these types of entrepreneurs in the world and on 8 December 2015 we lost one of the very best.
Laying on the chair in the studio as I write this is one of my North Face treasures from Doug Tompkins. It’s a U.S. Ski Team jacket, circuit 1980 something. It’s beat up and years from pristine, but it’s immaculately engineered, designed and produced and is the very best outdoors jacket I have ever owned. It never fails to keep me warm and protected, no matter the nasty conditions. There is nothing fancy about it but it always delivers in unexpected ways. And that was Doug Tompkins. He always delivered…in unexpected ways and places.

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