Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

What was Esprit, anyways?

Esprit store in Hong Kong | Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Most Dogpatch residents know Esprit Park, a soon-to-be-renovated and beloved urban oasis that’s popular with dogs and humans alike. But not everyone knows (or remembers) how the nearly two-acre park came to be—or that the brand it’s named after was born in San Francisco. 

The clothing brand Esprit, whose stenciled logo across sweatshirts and bags became a de rigeur emblem of coolness for kids in the late 1980s and 1990s, was known for its bright colors and youthful, diverse ad campaigns that echoed Benetton’s—both of which were created by Oliviero Toscani.  

Though the brand eventually became huge, it started scrappy. Susie Tompkins Buell and her friend Jane Tise launched what eventually would become Esprit under the name Plain Jane, selling their simple dresses out of a VW bus. Tompkins Buell’s then-husband Doug Tompkins eventually joined the venture and reimagined it as Esprit de Corp. Their corporate office: the apartment they shared.

But Doug Tompkins and Susie Tompkins Buell clearly already had their fingers on the pulse of some brand magic—the two also began the outdoors company The North Face in San Francisco in 1968. The couple imbued their various lines with their progressive, nature-loving ideals that are so emblematic of San Francisco itself.

It worked. Whether due to the couple’s innovation, Toscani’s signature campaign or John Casado’s iconic logo, the brand took off and opened its corporate headquarters in a brick-and-timber Dogpatch building that was later repurposed as condominiums in 2009

The Tompkins' love of the outdoors and conservation also spurred them to build the park alongside the Esprit offices, which they transferred to San Francisco Recreation and Parks ownership in 2001. The company cut ties with the city upon selling its U.S. trademark rights in 2002. 

Now headquartered in Hong Kong and Germany, Esprit is a sliver of what it once was—the brand lost $90 billion of its valuation between 2007 and 2011.

You might not be able to feel the spirit of Esprit in the park today, but trust us—it’s there. 

Julie Zigoris can be reached at