In 1978, a team of women left San Francisco for the Himalayas to make history as the first Americans—and the first women—to summit Annapurna I, the world’s tenth highest peak. To raise the $80,000 it would take to fund the expedition, team leader Arlene Blum created T-shirts to sell that said — “a woman’s place is on top.” The North Face gets set to relaunch the now infamous T-shirts, with all proceeds going towards getting more women and girls outdoors.
Arlene has been a hero of mine ever since I first read Annapurna: A Woman’s Place way back in the 80s. She is one of the reasons I got into mountaineering. I still own that first edition copy, and had the incredible fortune of getting to hear her speak and have her sign my book at The North Face HQ yesterday.
To recreate the original T-shirt, The North Face worked with Arlene and the Annapurna team. At the time. the T-shirts went for $10 — Arlene still uses the same printer today that she used back in 1977 — and they sold over 10,000 of them. All revenue from the new T-shirt sales will be donated to SheJumps, a nonprofit organization that gets women and girls involved in outdoor activities. So be sure to show your support and let the world know that a women’s place is on top — I will be buying a bunch for all the females in my family.
During Arlene’s talk, she told us how that even after successfully summiting higher peaks all over the Andes, she was rejected from joining a (male) team to climb Denali. They told her that women would only be allowed as far as base camp to help with cooking and even after she persisted, they said women did not have the physical strength or mental stability it took to climb mountains. Instead of taking the stupid rejection outright, she simply established her own all-female climbing team to go climb it themselves. And climb it they did, even successfully rescuing one of their teammates who had taken ill at the summit.
If you didn’t know, Arlene is also a brilliant chemist. Setting out to make a difference in the world after witnessing the death of friend and fellow climber Bruce Carson on their summit of Trisul, she first championed the removal of flame retardants in children’s clothing back in the 70s and is still working hard today to demonstrate the ill effects of chemicals on both humans and the environment found in everything from our food wrappers and hand soap to our couches and outdoor apparel. Top tip: check your couch for tags that say they comply to Technical Bulletin 117 — that’s bad.
For those of you who haven’t yet read Arlene’s book Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, be sure to do so. It’s a sad but beautiful story of the successful American and female ascent of Annapurna I — an expedition that solidified a woman’s right to climb mountains.
The A Woman’s Place t-shirts retail for $30 and are available from The North Face website.