A GLAM SLAM TALKS TO JASMIN GHAFFARIAN OF THE NORTH FACE ABOUT DESIGNING U.S. FREESKIING UNIFORMS
The Winter Olympics in Sochi are still months away, but the process of developing team fashions began long ago. The Games will mark the debut of freeskiing athletes, as the sport has joined the Olympic program for the first time. It’s also a first for The North Face, since the brand was tapped to design the U.S. Freeskiing competition uniforms.
In partnership with the athletes, The North Face established a specific style guide for the uniforms developed for all three freeskiing disciplines: halfpipe, slopestyle and skicross. The designs are meant to enhance each athlete’s performance, merging technical aspects with a standout style. In addition to the patriotic red, white and blue hues, the uniforms leave no detail unturned. Several unique touches were woven into the apparel, and the customization of the uniforms helps to bring the “Rebel Americana” theme to life.
The gear was designed and manufactured in the U.S. at a development center not far from The North Face headquarters in Alameda, CA. The uniforms were tested by top freeskiing athletes, including Tom Wallisch, Maddie Bowman, Devin Logan and John Teller throughout The North Face research, design and development process. Wallisch, Bowman and Logan, who are all members of The North Face global athlete roster, provided both technical and style-related input.
A Glam Slam spoke with Jasmin Ghaffarian, The North Face Action Sports Product Director, about creating uniforms for the Olympic stage, balancing elements of fashion and function, and design inspiration. Check it out:
How long was the process of creating the U.S. Freeskiing Olympic uniforms? When did you begin to develop designs?
We got the sponsorship two years ago and we started working on it two years ago, but I would say we really got full steam ahead about 18 months ago. It’s a pretty lengthy process, in that there is a lot of concepting and idea forming before we actually get into the designing and developing of the product, and creating the filters and the things that we want to look at the product through.
The bar is raised for the Olympic Games, as they take place on bigger stage. Were there differences in this design process as opposed to your typical design process?
It’s just different, I wouldn’t call it bigger. It’s definitely more important because we are representing the United States and the Olympics are obviously something that everyone is familiar with, but internally our mantra is “Athlete Tested, Expedition Proven.” We’ve put people on Everest and Antarctica to ski and snowboard, so we’ve been involved in pretty harsh climates and treacherous adventures that our athletes have done. This is just a little bit different because they are being judged by judges, but just as important if not more important.
Did you feel added pressure designing these uniforms because you are representing a new Olympic sport, one that will likely garner a lot of attention?
I think it would be wrong to say there wasn’t pressure because it’s obviously this moment that’s really about these athletes being on the freeskiing stage for the first time and being in the Olympics. We want to represent them correctly, our brand has never sponsored an Olympics before so it’s important for us to really innovate and showcase our everyday apparel that we build for the athletes. It’s for America, so I think that adds the most pressure, just knowing that it’s for our country and that it’s on a world stage. It was kind of exciting being able to watch the Summer Olympics happen while we were designing and developing. It was really exciting to feel those moments and it was much different than watching them as a kid or as a teenager with my parents.
The apparel’s performance benefits are obviously very important for the athletes, but how much did the idea of simply “looking good” play into the process?
We have three disciplines, it’s skiercross, halfpipe and slopestyle. In all sports in skiing, people always want to look good. I think its important in the sport, whether through fit or through look. Generally the sport always has followers that want to look good. Skiercross specifically is about speed and getting down the hill as fast as possible, so it was much more about aerodynamics I would say than fashion.
When it comes to slopestyle and halfpipe, it’s this perfect unison of technical and fashion, because ultimately what these guys need in function is also what they need in fashion. They’re wearing their clothes really baggy, but they actually need a lot of that room to do the tricks, so that’s not just the fashion element of it, but it’s also a need from the athletes. The way things are colored up and blocked, although that might be something that’s trending in the market, for us it’s really about visibility. For these guys, their backdrop is snow, they’re competing at night and they’re competing during the day, so seeing how they turn, seeing how their tricks are and how they’ll be visible to the judges becomes really important. There were over 1300 hours of color block testing and watching people turn in different formations of red, white and blue.
How much of a role did the athletes have in the process? Did they see designs along the way?
They play a huge role. There are some elements we want to keep a surprise and special for this moment of a launch, but ultimately just like in our regular product process, we say “Athlete Tested, Expedition Proven” because they’ve really made our brand what it is and helped us to be innovative. They test prototypes. Tom Wallisch has been an integral part from the beginning, telling us what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Some of it is style and then some of it is, I need a suspender system because I need to wear my pants really baggy, and coming in for fittings and testing it out. Skiercross for example has been testing the suit out in New Zealand, just for the function element of it.
What was the inspiration behind these uniforms?
We looked at all of the products through three filters. We looked at it through country, innovation and culture. The culture part is really about the athlete, getting to know them and this idea of when you think about Olympians you think of suffering and hard work, but this sport is totally about fun and hard work. It was really important for us to get to know the athletes even deeper than we already have. Getting to know these freeskiing athletes over the last ten years and even more specifically for the Olympics has been really special. It’s not only our first time going to the Olympics, it’s theirs, so it does change the dynamic of what they want.
We looked at innovation. We wanted to build technical, innovative products. It was really important that we pushed the edge so that it would make that difference between silver and gold and how could our uniforms, through visibility and color blocking, get them seen when they’re doing their tricks. Or if it’s about skiercross, how can we get them down the hill as fast as possible, what can we mimic in nature for example, to get them down as fast as possible.
Lastly, it was about America. Our theme around this night is “Rebel Americana,” and that speaks to 60’s subculture of being rebellious and counteracting. And these guys are really going to bring that to the Olympics. We’ve been working with these athletes forever and one of the first things we asked them is, how do you feel about going to the Olympics? A couple of them said, this is way bigger than me. This is about the sport of freeskiing and that was kind of our mantra throughout this. It’s not about The North Face, it’s not necessarily about the athlete, but it’s really about the world getting to know freeskiing and that’s what’s most important here and we’re really excited about that.
Our biggest accomplishment as a brand has been that we put someone on Everest and we kept them warm and dry and safe in really crazy conditions. One key element we have in every single uniform is a star that has been laser cut and says “Bigger Than Me” on it. It’s actually a piece of Himalayan suit fabric that’s been to the top of Everest. We wanted it to be a part of the uniforms because they really feel this is the biggest moment in their life, so if we can put someone on Everest, we can certainly help somebody win gold at the Olympics and that’s what we want them to feel when they put it on.
Generally, are the designs the same for men and women other than factors like silhouette/fit?
They are not the same. They have the same pocketing and function but they’re much different designs. They are uniform in the sense of color blocking. Everybody will be wearing navy on the body, white on the sleeves and red on the pants, so the red, white and blue is very apparent. They will all in a line, from far away, if you were to blur it out, look like a uniform. But individually they look very different. Functionally, we think about women in a different way than men, because of the body type. Where men typically like to hold things on their chest on the inside, women like it on the small of their waist, so it’s the same pocketing, but it’s made for a woman versus a man.
One of the key things when we were learning about these athletes was they’re about social media and selfies, and customization and uniqueness is so important to them. Uniform inherently means same, so we wanted them to feel the same as far as having a uniform and having uniform color blocking and things like that, but there’s very unique things for each of them. We created unique hats, gloves, buffs, all of these different things that they’ll be able to interchange and wear as they want. So although the uniform will be standardized, there are a couple of colors and things that they have the option of choosing from. We’ve created unique uniforms for each of the sports which is not necessarily being asked of us, but something we think they would really appreciate.
Below is a closer look at some of the U.S. Freeskiing Olympic fashions from The North Face: