The North Face Sparks Outrage Over Racial Inclusion Course

The North Face Sparks Outrage Over Racial Inclusion Course

Published: March 13, 2024

Popular outdoor apparel The North Face's latest initiative, a discount tied to the completion of a short racial inclusion course, has sparked controversy.

The hour-long course, titled "Allyship in the Outdoors," aimed to educate participants about the challenges faced by people of color when accessing and enjoying outdoor spaces.

It also provided resources and training to help people become “better allies” in promoting inclusivity.

“To thank you for being an ally and completing the full course, The North Face is pleased to offer you a one-off 20 percent discount, to be used on The North Face website.”

The Online Backlash from Conservatives

The incentive strategy ignited a heated debate among consumers and prompted discussions about sensitive topics, such as race, privilege, and the role of big brands in social justice movements.

Many took to social media to express outrage, particularly those identifying as conservative, accusing the company of being "woke" and promoting "divisive racism."

Mentioned in the post is Toby Young, founder, and director of the Free Speech Union (FSU), editor-in-chief of Daily Sceptic, and co-founder of Based Media.

Considered a right-wing figure, Young called The North Face “the latest company to deploy woke nonsense on its unsuspecting customers” in a post on X.

Some even went back to The North Face's "Summer Pride" campaign featuring drag queen Pattie Gonia which similarly drew criticisms from conservatives. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pattie Gonia (@pattiegonia)

Others felt the course unfairly targeted white people, accusing the outdoor gear brand of propagating racial division.

One supporter of Trump even posted on Facebook a photo of the company’s executives, who were notably mostly white, along with the caption, “This is the executive leadership team of North Face — look how diverse they are!”

Calls for boycotts quickly spread across social media platforms X and Facebook, with one user calling for “white working-class people” to punish the brand by making it lose millions of dollars “at the cash register.”

Others even referenced similar instances of boycott, with one posting on Facebook:

“North Face wanted some of that Bud Light experience.”

This points to the backlash and boycotts the beer brand received after partnering with social media influencer and transgender Dylan Mulvaney last year.

Criticisms About the Execution of the Initiative

Some diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts weigh in on the matter, criticizing The North Face’s execution of the strategy as something that is too marketing-focused that it failed to tackle the issue.

DEI consultant Jen O’Ryan, PhD, told The Drum that the promotion treated the advocacy as “a transaction.”

“You can offer a 20% discount for providing feedback on products or joining an email list. Same incentive to shift systems of deeply ingrained biases and patterns of behavior? Not so much,” O’Ryan added.

A college professor also expressed her opinion on the matter on TikTok and how the course is primarily written for white people, actually excluding people of color from the promo.

@professorlyn#greenscreen the North face is offering a 20% off coupon if you take a racial inclusion course but the inclusion course itself assumes you are a white person. Hey @thenorthface i get where you are going with this but it needs a little work. Why do I have to take this class about how hard it is to be a Black person outside to get 20% off??? #northface#thenorthface♬ original sound - Professor Lyn

“There’s no space, even with the way [the promo] is written that is inclusive of Black people [who] maybe just want a coupon for The North Face. So, I have a racial literacy course and kind of cosplay as a white person to get this?”

Professor Lyn ended the video with this advice to the brand:

“Don’t assume that your customer is white from the jump.”

Although many are also recognizing that the intention behind the "Allyship in the Outdoors” campaign is good, it completely missed its mark of promoting inclusion because the resulting backlash went in the exact opposite direction of its goal.

“They have simultaneously cheapened their stated commitment to DEI, which alienates their core audience of socially conscious consumers, while also drawing ire from conservatives looking to grab headlines over the next branded ‘culture war,’” marketing strategist Rachael Kay Albers pointed out.

The Future of Inclusivity Efforts

The North Face's experience reflects a growing trend of brands taking a stand on social issues.

The company now faces the challenge of navigating the balance between its business interests and its stated commitment to social responsibility.

According to DEI leaders, the path forward should involve clear communication about a campaign’s goals, a willingness to address concerns, and a commitment to initiatives that are diverse and authentic but well-executed.

“When companies like The North Face heavily invest in marketing themselves as the change — even going so far as to reduce their commitment to inclusion to a coupon code — it begs the question, ‘What comes first? A better world or your bottom line?’” Albers explained.

Learning from this, brands hoping to Integrate social issues like racial and gender inclusion in their marketing or advertising campaigns should tread very carefully and ensure that they are promoting their advocacy instead of just using it as a means to increase sales.

Learn More About Bud Light's PR Crisis
Subscribe to Spotlight Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest industry news