Douglas Tompkins: Esprit And North Face Co-Founder Dies In Kayaking Accident

Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of Esprit and North Face clothing brands, has died at the age of 72. Authorities confirmed the renowned conservationist suffered severe hypothermia after a kayaking accident on General Carrera Lake in southern Chile. Although he initially survived the accident, he was later pronounced dead at the Coyhaique Regional Hospital.

The New York Times reports Tompkins and his five companions capsized when their kayaks were overcome with powerful waves.

The 714-square-mile lake is notoriously unpredictable, as strong winds are common throughout the region. On the day in question, witnesses confirmed the winds were particularly strong and the waves reached heights of nearly nine feet.

Despite the fact that he and his companions were located and rescued, prosecutor Pedro Salgado confirmed Douglas was in the frigid water for a “considerable amount of time.” Although he was transported to the hospital by helicopter, doctors were unable to raise his body temperature enough to survive.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio, Douglas Tompkins and his family eventually relocated to the east coast, where he spent the majority of his childhood and teens.

Outside reports Tompkins left high school prior to graduation and never attended college. However, as he was an avid outdoorsman, he aspired to open his own outdoor accessory, equipment, and clothing store.

At the age of 23, Douglas made his dream a reality. In 1966, he and his wife Susie opened the first North Face store in San Francisco.

Former employee Jack Gilbert discusses why North Face was unique.

“His original store in North Beach, San Francisco, was old barn wood and green carpet, ahead of its time… He combined backpacking, skiing, and climbing. It was decorated with climbing gear from his friend Yvon Chouinard.”

Three years after its debut, the thriving company was acquired by Kenneth “Hap” Klopp.

In 1968, Douglas and Susie founded the Esprit clothing company. According to the company’s official website, the Tompkins’ created their own clothing line — which was initially “sold out of the back of a station wagon.”

In the first 20 years, Esprit reported more than $800 million in revenue. There are currently more than 900 Esprit retail stores in 40 countries worldwide.

In addition to his success as an entrepreneur, Tompkins loved spending time outdoors and strived to promote conservation. Together with his second wife Kristine, he acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of land with a goal of conservation and revitalization.

“[Douglas and Kristine] owned more than two million acres in South America through various foundations. Their joint goal was to ultimately create 12 national parks, four of which have already been gifted to the Chilean and Argentine governments. Their holdings include the 726,488-acre Pumalín Park, the world’s largest private nature reserve.”

Douglas Tompkins and his wife also owned Patagonia Park, which they were in the process of rewilding when the kayaking accident occurred. Ironically, General Carrera Lake is just north of Patagonia Park.

In addition to acquiring large expanses of undeveloped land, Tompkins and his wife founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology — with the goal of advocating for, and educating the general public about, conservation efforts.

In an earlier interview with Outside, Douglas discussed his passion for conservation and ecology.

“I’m an unabashed, shameless conservationist. I know everyone doesn’t have my resources, but I say don’t worry, do things to the best of your ability because you’ll find it rewarding and helpful and it’s paying rent for living on the planet. So just do it. Just do it.”

In addition to his success in business, Douglas Tompkins will be remembered for his love of the great outdoors. He is survived by his wife, mother, and three daughters.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons| Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0 ]