Patagonia is a sustainable outdoor fashion and clothing brand – which you probably already know unless you’ve been living under a rock. What you may not know is that Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, really liked rocks. Scaling them, specifically. He also really liked the idea of rejecting consumerism to turn Patagonia into a business that would change the world.
Patagonia was set up in 1973, but 1972 was truly the year of firsts. The first UN environment conference, three years before the term ‘global warming’ entered the public domain. The first of Yvon Chouinard’s ridiculous decisions. The first line of Chouinard’s products – hand-forged climbing tools called ‘pitons’ – suddenly discontinued.
Chouinard realised that the pitons he sold were disfiguring the wilderness of Patagonia, a South American region renowned for its natural beauty. He promptly retracted his most popular product from the market – much to the bewilderment of his customers and competitors. Chouinard then replaced the pitons with aluminium chocks that could be wedged, not hammered, into rock faces. This decision carved a business model that would become both worldwide and world-saving.
Patagonia’s subsequent growth as a leading outdoor clothing brand epitomises the secret to its success. Patagonia is neither pressurised by returns-obsessed shareholders nor committed to a business-as-usual, private ownership model with dimmed ethical values. It simply put its mission first. Before money. Before consumer demand. And especially before the inevitable backlash of its sceptics.
Patagonia received an avalanche of media attention when it ran an advert in The New York Times on Black Friday called, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. What sort of company discourages potential customers from buying their products? Or was this the epicentre of some Derren Brown experiment, with all New Yorkers subject to an ingenious reverse-psychology sales ploy?
Jonathan Petty, the European Marketing Director at Patagonia, responded by telling The Marketing Week that “Our customers expect very high quality and that’s why they always come back to us… At the same time, we help consumers change their behaviour for the better by encouraging them to make more considered purchases.”
In short – Patagonia was singing out against the fashion industry’s reliance on impulse-buying. Financial sustainability and environmental sustainability are generally accepted to be polar opposites in the fashion world, and by using this campaign to prioritise its environmental impact over individual sales, Patagonia is finding harmony between the 2. Truly mind-blowing stuff (eat your heart out, Derren).
For anyone still unconvinced by Patagonia’s commitment to being a sustainable fashion brand as opposed to a money-making machine, it’s worth taking a look at the company’s values. Patagonia has pledged to charge itself a tax for sustainability. Yes, a voluntary tax. Yes, Patagonia is once again disregarding everything we are taught about financial success. But also, yes, Patagonia is pioneering the way for the sustainable fashion industry.
Back in 1985, Patagonia committed 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, meaning over $89 million has been given to domestic and international environmental groups to protect and improve their local communities.
Patagonia also minimises its environmental impact through its production processes. Almost 70% of its fabrics are now made from recycled materials, which has allowed Patagonia to cut CO₂ emissions by 20,000 tonnes. That’s enough to power 2,300 homes for a full year. Any virgin cotton that Patagonia uses is organically grown, which saves water and reduces CO₂ emissions by 45% compared to conventional cotton.
Patagonia even strives to reduce its environmental impact after its products have been sold. As part of its guarantee, Patagonia insists that any dissatisfying products are returned to the company for a repair, replacement or refund, “because we know prioritizing durability results in consuming less energy, wasting less water and creating less trash.
For more worn items, Patagonia has set up ‘Worn Wear’ – a scheme that tackles the 10.5 million tons of textiles sent to landfill each year. Free online care and repair tutorials, as well as a camper van of Patagonia staff driving across the US, are ways that Patagonia help fix up customers’ beloved products.
In 2019, Patagonia was recognised for its incredible commitment to becoming a global leader in sustainability by being crowned the UN Champion of the Earth. “Through its commitment to sustainability and engagement with today’s most pressing environmental issues, Patagonia offers a perfect example of how the private sector can join the battle against climate change, biodiversity loss and other threats to human and planetary health,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Baffling market campaigns and non-invasive pitons aside, Patagonia has grown into an organisation that benefits consumers, the fashion industry and the environment in more ways than most can comprehend. Take a look at their website for more information on how you can get involved in an organisation that, much to Yvon Chouinard’s pleasure, truly rocks.
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