LOS ANGELES — Douglas Tompkins, founder of The North Face and Esprit, died Tuesday after a kayaking accident in Chile. He was 72.
A conservationist and avid outdoorsman, Tompkins was boating with five people on General Carrera Lake in the Patagonia region of southern Chile when their kayaks capsized in waters of less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. He was flown to a hospital with severe hypothermia and died in the intensive care unit.
Tompkins was born in Ohio and grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley. He dropped out of boarding school in Connecticut to travel the world and returned to the U.S. in 1962, opening a small ski and backpacking store in San Francisco that would become The North Face.
“Doug was a passionate advocate for the environment, and his legacy of conservation will help ensure that there are outdoor spaces to be explored for generations to come,” the company said in a statement.
The North Face was acquired by VF Corp. in 2000.
In 1968, Tompkins and his then-wife Susie Tompkins Buell founded Esprit with Jane Tise. It became a billion-dollar brand that defined casual sportswear in the Eighties and at its peak had 690 freestanding stores and 14,500 points of sale worldwide.
In 1986, Tompkins pioneered the shops-in-shop as a global retail concept with Esprit in Macy’s.
“Doug was a real stickler for design principles — everything from labels, the garments, the hangtags, bags, boxes. Everything was about controlling the brand,” Jerome Griffith, Esprit’s North America president, told WWD in 2008.
Tompkins sold his stake in the U.S. Esprit business in 1989 for what industry sources estimated was $150 million. He and his second wife, Kristine, a former chief executive officer at Patagonia, moved to Chile and Argentina, where they did conservation work.
At the time of his death, Tompkins was involved in creating new parks in Patagonia and in the Iberá wetlands of northeastern Argentina.
Tompkins is survived by his wife; his mother, Faith; his brother, John, and daughters Summer Tompkins Walker and Quincey Tompkins Imhoff.