Douglas R. Tompkins, the American entrepreneur and conservationist who founded The North Face in 1964 or 1966, according to conflicting reports, and Esprit in 1968, died in a kayaking accident on General Carrera Lake in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile on Dec. 8. He was 72 years old. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and his other companions, who had joined him in the exploit, were reportedly rescued.
After ski racing and rock climbing for two years in the Americas and Europe, Tompkins founded the California Mountaineering Guide Service in 1963.
A year later, together with his first wife, Susie Buelle, he founded The North Face as a small ski and outdoor store with a mail order business in San Francisco. They designed a widely copied model of tents, but sold the company and the brand in 1969 to Kenneth “Hap” Klopp for $50,000.
Tompkins then partnered with his wife and Jane Tise to found Esprit, turning it into a big dollar business through novel marketing and merchandising. He sold his stake in the company to his wife in 1989, following their separation, and went on a six-month trek to Patagonia together with Chouinard and two other climbers.
Passionate about the environment, Tompkins purchased more than two million acres of wild land in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile in the 1990s to ensure its preservation and opposing the construction of hydroelectric dams. With his second wife Kris McDivitt, a former chief executive of Patagonia, he helped create parks and natural preserves like Pumalín, Corcovado and Yendegaia.