I have of course heard of the North Face clothing brand but Douglas Tompkins, sadly not until today. This seems sometimes to be the case in life, that it only when somebody dies, that we come to appreciate how wonderful they were and what they achieved when alive. The following is an abridged version of his entry on Wikipedia.
Douglas Tompkins, conservationist, outdoorsman, philanthropist, filmmaker, agriculturalist, and businessman.
‘Tompkins co-founded and ran two companies: the outdoor equipment and clothing company The North Face; and with his then-wife Susie, the Esprit clothing company. Since leaving the business world in 1989, Tompkins was active in various environmental activism and land conservation causes. Along with his wife, Kris Tompkins, he bought and conserved over 2 million acres (8,100 km2) of wilderness in Chile and Argentina, more than any other private individual in the region, thus becoming one of the largest private land-owners in the world. Together, they were focused on park creation, wildlife recovery, ecological agriculture, and activism, with the goal of saving biodiversity.
Tompkins was born in Ohio on March 20, 1943, the son of an antiques dealer and decorator. He spent the first few years of his life in New York City before his family moved to Millbrook, New York. He graduated from Indian Mountain School, a pre-prep school in Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1957. In his senior year at Pomfret School in Connecticut, Tompkins was expelled for various minor infractions. He returned to his hometown in Millbrook, but did not graduate from high school.
The North Face company.
In 1964, Tompkins and his wife started The North Face as a mail order and retail company, selling rock climbing and camping equipment. The early years set the design standard of good quality sleeping bags, backpacks, and mountaineering tents. Around 1966, Tompkins and his partner designed The North Face tents that were some of the first to avoid a pole in the middle, by using bendable rods that push out in their sleeves instead. This design also increased the strength of the tent because the domed shape allowed the wind to roll over the tents. These tents were widely copied throughout the world. In 1969, Tompkins sold The North Face to focus on adventure film making.
In 1968, Tompkins headed off on a six-month road/adventure trip from California to Patagonia, along with Yvon Chouinard and two other climbing friends. They put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy, and made an adventure film, Mountain of Storms, about their experience. The 2010 film 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless describes a modern-day recreation of this journey. Tompkins also became a skilled whitewater kayaker, claiming first descents of rivers in California, Africa, and South America. In addition, he was a skilled bush pilot.
In 1968 Tompkins, his wife Susie, and her friend Jane Tise began selling girls’ dresses out of the back of a VW bus. In 1971 they incorporated the booming business under the name “Plain Jane” which later became Esprit. By 1978 sales topped $100 million a year and the company had formed partnerships in Germany and Hong Kong. Tompkins titled himself “image director”, overseeing all aspects of the company’s image, from store design to catalog layout, while his wife served as design director. Emerging as one of the hottest brands of the era, the company grew into a transnational company operating in 60 countries. At the same time, the company developed a reputation as a good place to work.
Growing increasingly concerned about the ecological impacts of the fashion industry, Tompkins decided to leave the business world in the late 1980s. In 1989, he sold his share of the American company back to Susie, from whom he had separated, putting most of his profits into land conservation. Subsequently, in 1989 and 1994, he sold his interests in the other Esprit entities around the world.
After selling his interest in Esprit, Tompkins moved to south Chile, where he had spent much time climbing, kayaking, and skiing, to focus on land conservation and environmental activism. He founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 1990, which supports environmental activism, and The Conservation Land Trust in 1992, which works to protect wildlands, primarily in Chile and Argentina.
In 1993, he married Kris Tompkins; the two worked together on conservation projects. The Tompkins’ conservation efforts focused on preserving wild landscapes and biodiversity. After purchasing large blocks of wilderness, they worked to create national parks, believing that this governmental designation serves as the best mode of guaranteeing long-term conservation.
Tompkins’s first major conservation project was Pumalín Park in the Palena Province of Chile, an 800,000-acre (3,200 km2) area of Valdivian temperate rainforest, high peaks, lakes, and rivers. In 1991, he bought the Reñihué farm, a semi-abandoned farm at the end of the Reñihué Fjord, planning to set aside 42,000 acres (170 km2) of this unique forest from possible exploitation. In the next decade, The Conservation Land Trust added another 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) in nearly contiguous parcels to create Pumalín Park. In 2005, then-President Ricardo Lagos declared this area a Nature Sanctuary, a special designation of the Chilean state, granting it additional environmental and non-developmental protection. The Conservation Land Trust (a U.S. environmental foundation) has donated these protected lands to Fundación Pumalín (a Chilean foundation), for their administration and continual development as a type of National Park with public access under a private initiative. Through creating public-access infrastructure, including trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, and a restaurant, Tompkins sought to promote wilderness experience, in hopes of inspiring a deeper environmental ethic in the park’s many thousands of visitors.
Corcovado National Park, (Chile).
Just to the south of Pumalin, Corcovado National Park represents one of Tompkins’ completed conservation projects. In 1994, The Conservation Land Trust (CLT), along with U.S. philanthropist Peter Buckley, acquired 208,000 acres (840 km2) of native forest that was slated for logging, adjacent to vast areas of federal land under the jurisdiction of the Chilean Armed Forces. CLT offered to donate this parcel back to the Chilean state, provided that the whole area became a national park. In 2005, then-President Ricardo Lagos accepted this proposal, and the 726,000-acre (2,940 km2) Corcovado National Park was born.
The Iberá Project.
The Iberá project is a private conservation enterprise spearheaded by Tompkins together with billionaire George Soros and Harvard University and the Conservation Land Trust (Tompkins enterprise) with a goal of expanding land ownership and strengthening protection for the existing Iberá Wetlands natural preserve, in the Corrientes Province of Argentina. Since 1983, the Iberá Natural Reserve has consisted of 553,000 hectares of protected floodplains, providing safe habitat for a range of native species, and encouraging a transition from an exploitative economy to an economy of conservation and ecotourism. The Conservation Land Trust has acquired 150,000 hectares of old cattle ranches bordering the existing natural reserve, lands which include habitats not currently represented in the existing park. The goal is to donate these lands, including espinal, malezal grasslands, and forests, to the Argentine government to include in the reserve, creating a new strictly conserved park called the Great Iberá Park. This new park, which would total 700,000 hectares, would be the largest national park in Argentina.
Other conservation projects that Tompkins spearheaded:
the Melimoyu and Isla Magdalena conservation projects in coastal Chile
the Yendegaia project in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego
Envisioning “conservation as a consequence of production,” Tompkins developed models of sustainable organic agriculture, which maintain soil health and ecological integrity at the same time that they provide for families and support the local economy.
In the area around Pumalin, the Hornopiren, Vodudahue, Ventisquero, Pillan, and Reñihue farms serve as exemplars of small-scale ecological agriculture and as informal park ranger stations. Each of these farms produces a variety of products, including sheep, cattle, honey, berries, and organic vegetables. A small facility in the Pillan farm processes honey and berries for jams, which are sold under the name Pillan Organics.
In north-eastern Argentina, Tompkins managed cattle ranches in Corrientes Province and polyculture grain and fruit farms in Entre Ríos Province. Each farm pays close attention to developing sustainable practices.
Through the Foundation for Deep Ecology, Tompkins published a series of large-format, photo activist books on various environmental issues. These included Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy; Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture; Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West; and Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry.
In addition, Tompkins has been involved in several large environmental campaigns in Chile and Argentina, such as the “Patagonia Sin Represas” campaign, which opposed the construction of dams on two of the largest and wildest rivers in the Patagonia region of Chile.
On December 8, 2015, Tompkins was kayaking with five others on General Carrera Lake in southern Chile when strong waves caused their kayaks to capsize. Tompkins spent a “considerable amount of time” in waters under 40 °F (4 °C). He was flown via helicopter to a hospital in nearby Coyhaique, where he died from severe hypothermia. He was 72 years old and survived by his wife, two daughters, mother and brother.’