I received a couple of early Christmas presents this month. First, my older daughter Amy came back from college for a weekend visit. That's always a nice surprise. And Amy did not come back empty-handed. She gave me a black hoodie sweatshirt. But it was no ordinary hoodie. It was a 100 percent cotton sweatshirt from The South Butt. You got that right; The South Butt, not The North Face.

The South Butt clothing line was launched in 2007 to poke a little fun at The North Face. Teenage entrepreneur Jimmy Winkelmann was in high school when he launched The South Butt. He wanted to help his parents defray the cost of college and have a little fun in the process. He is now a 19-year-old biomedical engineering student at the University of Missouri. In addition to tweaking the name, Winkelmann changed The North Face's tagline from "Never Stop Exploring" to "Never Stop Relaxing" and flipped the logo upside down.

The South Butt website extols the virtues of taking things easy. The founder says "I started The South Butt for those of us who like the relaxed life of couches, cafes, malls and beaches. In our store we have clothing for things other than playing polo and climbing mountains." How refreshing. Something to appeal to our inner slackers. The South Butt offers outdoor apparel on its website at www.thesouthbutt.com and at a growing number of retail outlets. The product line is fairly broad with jackets, fleeces, shirts and accessories.

Apparently VF Corp, owner of The North Face, did not see the humor in the parody. Last December they decided to sue little Jimmy's butt off. Merry Christmas, Tiny Jim. I can understand that the legal Scrooges need to protect The North Face brand, but the whole affair looked a little vindictive. Accusing The South Butt of intellectual piracy, The North Face legal team pointed out the apparent hypocrisy that Mr. Winkelmann had actually applied for copyright protection for The South Butt. In the end, this David vs. Goliath affair turned out okay for The South Butt as the parties settled out of court this past April. God bless us, everyone.

Was The North Face taking itself a little too seriously? After all, it's not like The South Butt was going to grab a pants load of market share. And who wouldn't benefit from a little fun and free publicity? Playing big bad corporate bully generated some bad press. In fact The South Butt's sales really started to kick a** after The North Face suit was filed. From my perspective, The North Face line has morphed from outdoor gear for serious enthusiasts to just another fashion statement for outdoor wannabes. You are likely to see as much North Face gear at your local Starbucks as the closest state park.

Yet, honestly, I am one of those outdoors wannabes. If you were to inspect my basement, garage and closet you might get the mistaken impression that you've stumbled into the home of Admiral Perry, Edmund Hillary or John Muir instead of a bean counter. Walter Mitty is alive and well in my house.

I'm no a couch potato, mind you. I enjoy cross-country skiing, hiking and mountain biking. But living in the flat sub-tropical Chicago suburbs means that I spend more cycling time dodging traffic on asphalt streets than bombing down rock strewn trails. The Stairmaster and elliptical machine at the local YMCA see a lot more action than my cross-country skis.

The local environment has not slowed my growing inventory of bikes, skis, camping gear and technical garments. I'd like to say these old friends accompanied me on bike rides up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park, on a hike down the Appalachian Trail or climbing expeditions on El-Capitan, but those would be bald-faced lies.

More than likely the source of the stains on my Patagonia fleece vest was a spilled Starbucks latte. The melted waistband on my North Face hiking shorts are not from a close encounter with a campfire but from too much time in the clothes dryer. The scratches on my full suspension mountain bike probably came from the bike rack at the public library and not the John Muir Trail in the Southern Kettle Moraine.

You can often spot me in full wannabe regalia just before an epic 30-minute bike ride. Decked out in synthetic wicking materials, not a thread of cotton touches my body. We all know that cotton kills, right? Nevermind that the windchill factor may be a bone-chilling 65 degrees for most of my rides.

It begs, the question, do I really need to wear "high performance" fiber instead of killer cotton clothes? Invariably my brother and I always spot a cross-country skier who tackles the Birkie or Korteloppet wearing a pair of jeans. I tip my Gore-Tex hat to those who thumb their noses at convention.

Speaking of convention, the deluge of Christmas advertising and music is underway as I write. One song I've heard a few too many times is "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." This tune was written in 1944 by grade school music teacher Donald Yetter Gardner. (Mr. Gardner is no longer with us, so I'm hoping that the copyright has expired or his heirs have a better sense of humor than the folks at The North Face.) So in honor of Tiny Jim Winkelmann, I've taken a few liberties with the lyrics.

Everybody pauses and stares at me
My sweatshirt's made of cotton as you can see
The "in crowd" can be so mean
I got this piece of crap from L.L. Bean

All I want for Christmas is a micro-fiber fleece,
my micro-fiber fleece, see my micro-fiber fleece!
Gee, if I could only wear a micro-fiber fleece,
then I could buy a latte at Starbucks

I used to have a jacket from The North Face,
But it disappeared without a trace,
Now I'd settle for a Patagonia,
Then I wouldn't fear hypothermia

All I want for Christmas is a micro-fiber fleece,
my micro-fiber fleece, see my micro-fiber fleece.
Gee, if I could only wear a micro-fiber fleece,
then I could buy a latte at Starbucks  


I am going to have to be extra careful when I wear my new present. My South Butt sweatshirt is made of 100 percent cotton, after all. I'll probably pack an extra space blanket and chemical hand-warmers in case I get this puppy wet. You can never be too careful on the treacherous walk from the parking lot to the base camp coffee shop. 

I wish you and yours a happy holiday season and a litigation free New Year.