The North Face is dropping the word “sherpa” from the name of its fleece jackets this fall, using 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 moving forward.
“We’ve recognized the origins of the term ‘sherpa’ and how it’s been applied to the fashion industry,” Eric Raymond, director of social impact for The North Face, told NBC News.
The Sherpa people, which means “Eastern people” in Nepali, are an ethnic group who live along the Tibet-Nepal border. Most live in the surrounding areas of the Himalayas, mainly in the eastern regions of Nepal. They are generally known for their excellent trekking skills and are regarded as expert mountaineers.
The synthetic fabric used in the brand’s jackets, which mimics real shearling or sheep’s wool, resembles the wool-lined clothing worn by the tribe.
The North Face has credited the Sherpa people for helping guide the company’s athletes for decades during expeditions in the Himalayan mountains.
The company has enlisted The North Face Global Athlete climber Dawa Yangzum Sherpa and friend of the brand, who are both Sherpa, to represent their culture as Nepalese Americans and how much the outdoors means to them.
“I love that I was born in Nepal and I have this whole culture behind me. But at the same time, being in the American culture has introduced me to the outdoor world. And now using the outdoor world, I can bond 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 who use the term.
Henry Navarro, a multidisciplinary designer and an associate professor in fashion at The Creative School of the Toronto Metropolitan University, said The North Face’s decision to change the name and highlight the Sherpa people is a step in the right direction.
He said the expeditions that took place in the region couldn’t have happened without the knowledge and traditions of the Sherpa people, including important clothing to keep warm during treks.
“The Sherpa people traditionally wore the fur on the inside because it created an air pocket that insulates.”
Henry navarro, Toronto Metropolitan University
“The 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 from the wind, Navarro said.
“They shared that knowledge with all these explorers, and that has never been fully recognized,” he said.
Navarro said the conversation of cultural appropriation and recognition rarely comes up within the outdoor lifestyle community.
“The outdoor lifestyle has a huge debt to Indigenous people. All these companies are mostly owned by white people. When you see all the advertisements about outdoor companies, very rarely do you see a Black person or a brown person in them. So, that kind of solidifies the stereotype that people of color are not savvy in the outdoors. And that is simply not true,” he said.
“The outdoor lifestyle has a huge debt to Indigenous people.”
Henry Navarro, Toronto Metropolitan University
Navarro said because people of color come from places of extreme climates, their history includes clothing to deal with different environments.
“So when you see parkas, they were an invention of Native Americans. When you see cowboy gear, a lot of those items were actually created in Latin America, Mexico or in California — when it was a 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 rising interest in making sure that brands are being authentic, making sure that appropriation isn’t something that’s happening inside your company” he said.
He said since the inception 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 creation of an education and training facility in Nepal, as well as supporting the American Himalayan Foundation and Stop Girl Trafficking, which helps combat the trafficking of young girls in Nepal through education.
“We’re not saying that it is an offensive term broadly," 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."