The North Face, the American outdoor apparel and gear outfitter with the ethos “Never Stop Exploring,” specializes in products that lend themselves to unchecked wanderlust, wild sojourns and mountain scaling. It’s a company that many of us have turned to when venturing away from home and out of our comfort zones, be it sleeping in an open field in a trash bag tent or hiking the Cascades with a cat.

For a special new product line, The North Face has reined it in dramatically — from a supply chain and manufacturing standpoint anyway — with a hooded sweatshirt that takes it cue from local agriculture and urban farming — a hoodie that’s proudly (and mostly) “grown” within a 150-mile radius of the company’s Alameda, California, home base. While certainly not the first apparel company to champion domestic design and production, The North Face’s first attempt at completely local, small-scale manufacturing — dubbed the “Backyard Project” — is notable considering the sheer size and global popularity of the venerable brand founded in San Francisco in 1968.

Sure, launching a mass-market "artisanal" hoodie produced within a limited number of Bay Area zip codes is a touch stunt-y. However, it’s a much-welcomed move that draws attention to the oft-overlooked strengths of local, collaborative manufacturing from a company that, while already an industry leader in sustainable manufacturing practices including the innovative use of recycled fibers, wholly or partially produces a majority of its merchandise thousands of miles away from its own home.

The zip-style organic cotton blend Backyard Hoodie, available in men’s and women’s sizes in a “Ferrous Sulfate Brown” color (it’s easier-on-the-eyes than it sounds), is the result of a close-knit, Northern Cali-centric production process that generates less waste and offers consumers an additional level of transparency while bringing together cotton farmers in Brooks and San Joaquin, fabric cutters in Oakland, sewers in San Leandro and, of course, The North Face’s Alameda-based design team. Local project partners include Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed, Sally Fox of Foxfibre and the Sustainable Cotton Project.

And a bit more on the Backyard Hoodie’s aforementioned color:

The hoodie’s heirloom breed of brown cotton also helped reduce the need for synthetic dyes. To obtain a unique color, The North Face used food grade iron (ferrous sulfate), which reacts with tannins in the fiber (similar to the rusting process), causing the fabric to turn a beautifully rich dark charcoal color.
There is, however, one hitch in The North Face's "seed to sweatshirt” story: The cotton was spun and the cotton yarn knitted into fabric not in California but in the Carolinas — Thomasville, North Carolina and Clover, South Carolina, to be exact. Still, The North Face’s backyard ambitions are commendable, even if the California-grown fibers make a long-haul journey across the country before returning back home. As explained on the Never Stop Exploring blog, spinning and knitting the cotton in the Bay Area proved to be logistically challenging for the project due to the complete dearth of cotton mills in Northern California. This explains why the crucial middle step in the manufacturing process takes place on the East Coast.

And although the Backyard Hoodie (T-shirts and additional items are to come) is available online and at North Face retail outposts nationwide, it does, of course, lend itself best to Bay Area residents who opt to go the in-store purchase route.

The launch of the Backyard Project couldn’t come at a better time with high gift-giving season just around the corner. Because really, who wouldn’t want to find a $125 artisanal hoodie from The North Face sitting under the Christmas tree? And as we edge nearer to winter, it’s also time to crank down that thermostat and start dressing appropriately (read: comfortably bundled up) while lounging about the house in an effort to save on wintertime heating bills. The Backyard Hoodie may not make it to Machu Picchu but I think I've found a winning wintertime “house sweater.”

Via [Triple Pundit]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.