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Denver might have missed out on Amazon, but let’s be honest: The online behemoth never really felt like our kind of corporate titan. VF Corporation, though, that’s a multinational we could go hiking with—and probably have. This month, the Fortune 250 company will relocate from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the Mile High City. All told, the VF umbrella includes more than 20 brands, five of which will be moving to Denver, too. (The North Face and JanSport, for instance, are escaping Silicon Valley’s oppressive housing prices for the Front Range’s, um, slightly less oppressive housing prices.) VF’s Steve Rendle, president and CEO since 2017, believes consolidating in adventure-centric Colorado will bolster the estimated $39 billion behemoth’s recent shift toward focusing on activewear. We spoke with Washington-raised Rendle about his connection to the West, how VF’s presence will benefit our capital city, and his controversial decision to strip Steamboat Springs of Smartwool.
Name: Steve Rendle
Occupation: CEO and president, VF Corporation
5280: For most of its 120-year history, VF has been known for its denim brands, such as Wrangler and Lee. Now you’re concentrating on activewear. Why?
Steve Rendle: There’s a consistent theme with VF. This company has been able to pivot at really important times in our history. We began to understand the power of our active lifestyle brands after the acquisition of the North Face in 2000, followed by the acquisition of Vans in 2004. Those are now our largest and most profitable brands and have really set a tone for how we look at building our portfolio.
How does being in Denver benefit your move to activewear?
Because of the cost of living, there were some issues in California specific to our ability to recruit and retain top talent. What brought us to Colorado is the power of place. It’s steeped in outdoor heritage. But it was also the purple state component. You see individuals and companies coming together to make decisions that are good for humanity and the environment—that really aligns with our company’s mission.
So how will VF help Denver thrive? Will the company become political?
There’s a key element around environmental sustainability, but it’s also about active lifestyles. “Political” isn’t the word I would use. We will become very willing participants in the metro Denver and Colorado private and public sectors. Where we will go specifically? I’m not prepared to tell you exactly. But we’re also asking members of our corporate team to join local boards and committees and bring the VF commitment to life through our personal service.
Some are upset that you’re moving Smartwool—which contributed a lot economically to Steamboat Springs—to Denver. Did you ever think about leaving that brand there?
We certainly did. But we have a broader commitment for what we are trying to achieve. In our Switzerland and Hong Kong offices, our brands are co-located. What we see there is exceptional collaboration, and it’s helped us unlock a tremendous amount of innovation and business opportunities. When we thought of Smartwool in Steamboat and the other brands in Denver, that collaboration would not be as rich.
Personally, are you happy to be moving to Colorado?
I’m excited to be back in a vibrant outdoor community with like-minded people who share my passions for the sports that I love so much. I’m a big backcountry skier, hiker, and fly-fisherman. I used to be an avid cyclist, so I spent a lot of years in the 1980s in Boulder training with friends. The West is deeply embedded in my head and in my heart.