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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

The North Face selects first Explore Fund Council, allocates $7 million to DEI efforts

The North Face on Thursday announced the members of its first Explore Fund Council, eight individuals who will lead the company's effort to connect diverse communities to the benefits of exploration.

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Last October, The North Face launched the Explore Fund Council and pledged $7 million to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts as a way to expand access to outdoor exploration. The outdoor apparel and gear brand made that significant financial commitment as part of its “Reset Normal” campaign, a global initiative that “encourages people everywhere to reset their lives through exploration in the hope of progress and discovery that is so needed in today’s challenging environment.”

On Thursday, The North Face unveiled the community leaders who will be in charge of allocating those funds to various nonprofit organizations. The eight council members are:

  • Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, wildlife ecologist and National Geographic explorer
  • José G. González, founder and director emeritus of Latino Outdoors
  • Hakim Tafari, cyclist and runner
  • Shanée Benjamin, art director and illustrator
  • Jody Potts, Gwich’in leader and advocate
  • Chris Dean, Memphis Rox co-founder and community organizer
  • Liz Kleinrock, educator, lecturer, speaker
  • Myron Floyd, outdoor educator, researcher, lecturer

They join the two Explore Fund Council leaders announced last fall: Lena Waithe, an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter, producer, and actor who has devoted her career to championing underrepresented artists and communities through her production company Hillman Grad; and Jimmy Chin, The North Face global athlete, climber, and Academy Award-winning director.

Grid of eight The North Face Explore Fund Council members
Top row, left to right: Liz Kleinrock, Chris Dean, Hakim Tafari, Jody Potts; Bottom row, left to right: Myron Floyd, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Shanée Benjamin, José G. González.

“For me, exploration has always been a mindset,” Waithe said in October when the EFC was established. “As a creative, I see myself as a constant, curious explorer and I believe everyone can have and should have access to this right. The only real way to see change happen is by helping to create it yourself. I’m excited to work with The North Face and all of the Explore Fund Council members so our collective perspectives can help diversify the outdoors and make it a more equal place for all.”

Added Chin, “Throughout my life, exploration has been a constant source of positivity. I truly believe it is part of what makes us all human, and that exploration can bring people together and change lives. Not everyone has the same access to or opportunity for outdoor adventure. This is an issue I’m excited to take on alongside The North Face and the other Explore Fund Council members.”

The North Face wants to empower future explorers

The establishment of the EFC was a logical next step for The North Face, which is owned and operated by Denver-based VF Corporation. A decade ago, The North Face created its Explore Fund charitable giving platform with a mission of enabling exploration and fostering a love of wild places. In the last 10 years, Explore Fund has supported hundreds of nonprofits across the country working to increase participation and make outdoor activities more inclusive. 

Read more: VF Corporation makes its annual diversity report public for the first time

But The North Face saw an opportunity to enhance the Explore Fund’s outreach efforts by bringing in “creatives, academic experts, outdoor industry partners, and more” to “collectively develop ideas to help create meaningful change.”

In addition to adding council members to the decision-making process, The North Face also elevated its monetary pledge to these causes. Since its creation, the Explore Fund has awarded about $500,000 a year over 10 years in $5,000 to $25,000 grants. Now, The North Face has committed $7 million to organizations to build equity in the outdoors and create opportunities for all.

The North Face said it hopes to “empower future explorers who are curious, interested and passionate about the outdoors—but may not have access to equipment, adventures or outdoors experts they can look up to and learn from.”

“For 10 years, we’ve been working to reset the barriers to exploration and make it more accessible for all through our Explore Fund,” Steve Lesnard, global VP of marketing and product for The North Face, said last fall at the launch of Reset Normal. “But 2020 has proven we need to radically accelerate that work and collaborate with a broad-reaching community to help us do so. We’re really excited to work alongside changemakers like Lena and Jimmy, and I believe the Explore Fund Council will help us foster a new, more equitable era for the outdoor industry.”