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The North Face founder who saved millions of acres of Latin American wilderness has died

Doug Tompkins
Reuters/Leo Beca
An environmental activist ’til the end.
  • Aamna Mohdin
By Aamna Mohdin


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Douglas Tompkins, the co-founder of The North Face and Esprit, has died in a kayaking accident in Chile at the age of 72. The fashion tycoon dedicated his life to protecting the environment.

Tompkins founded the outdoor clothing company The North Face in the mid-1960s. The company’s mantra, “Never Stop Exploring,” reflected Tompkins’s own love for adventures. He went on to found multibillion-dollar retailer Esprit with his first wife in the late 1960s. Both companies echoed his values to protect their environment and run an ethical and fair fashion brand.

Tompkins once told The Telegraph: “People who accumulate wealth should pay rent for living on the planet, and that means they have got to give it away.” He lived by those words throughout his life. Tompkins eventually rejected consumer culture and went on to create the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

Tompkins sold both his companies and ended up preserving more land than any other individual in history. Tompkins and his wife Kristine Tompkins spent up to $300 million to buy 2.2 million acres of wilderness to create national parks and reserves in South America. He quickly became known as “the most controversial American in South America.”

Tompkins faced powerful opposition from government ministers and some local communities in Argentina and Chile, who argued that Tompkins’s mass purchases of land compromised their national sovereignty and impeded economic development. Tompkins, however, was undeterred.

“Sure, I offend people,” he told The Guardian. “I do it all the time, but we only have one shot at this. Why would a retired billionaire want to keep his money anyway? What good is it to him when he is dead?”

But times changed and governments came to appreciate what his incredible work. In 2005, Chilean president Ricardo Lagos declared the 800,000-acre Pumalin Park, which started as a Tompkins project, a national sanctuary. Parque Patagonia, a nature reserve that spans 200,000 acres, was Tompkins’s largest project to date; it opened this year.

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