This year Patagonia caught headlines across the world as its founder, and now ex owner, Yvon Chouinard gave his company away in a move that made the Earth Patagonia’s sole shareholder. We caught up with Harry from Patagonia to discuss the company’s history, future, and commitment to saving our home planet.
For those not familiar, how was Patagonia founded and how has the brand evolved over the years?
Over the last 50 years Patagonia has sought to challenge the accepted model of capitalism by demonstrating that doing the right thing for people and planet makes for good and profitable business. Yvon Chouinard’s first Patagonia products were pieces of climbing equipment called pitons crafted by himself on his second-hand anvil and then sold out of the boot of his car whilst traveling around the USA climbing. From these initial products Patagonia steadily evolved to produce outdoor clothing and equipment following Yvon’s strict design philosophy of simplicity and responsibility. Today Patagonia’s commitment to our home planet holds strong, as we seek to pioneer solutions to the footprint of the apparel industry, and advocate for the role of business in holding governments to account in this time of environmental crisis.
How important to Patagonia is being sustainable and how does that shape the brand’s approach to producing outdoor clothing?
The reality is that nothing is sustainable, and Patagonia is not a sustainable company. Everything we make has an impact. The apparel industry alone is responsible for 10% of all global emissions whilst garment worker abuse is rife. At Patagonia we do not use the term sustainable, but instead see addressing our footprint as a responsibility. By operating as a responsible business, we can demonstrate that it’s possible to put people and planet first in an economy centred around extractive capitalism.
What are some of the key initiatives that Patagonia has in place to address its responsibility to people and planet?
100% of Profits go toward fighting the Climate Crisis
In September 2022, Yvon gave up his and his family’s ownership of Patagonia. In doing so, Yvon created a structure in which Patagonia’s commitment to how we do business is locked in for perpetuity, whilst also committing 100% of profits to fighting the ecological and environmental crisis. These profits are paid to the Holdfast Collective whose purpose is to use every pound received to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity and to support thriving communities. The collective intends to give around $100 million a year to ensuring that we save our home planet.
In Fall 2022 99.5% of Patagonia’s range will feature preferred materials. Preferred materials are those which have a reduced impact on the planet compared to their conventional alternatives. Examples of Patagonia’s preferred materials include; Regenerative Organic Cotton, Organic Cotton, Recycled Polyester, Recycled Nylon, Recycled Cotton, Recycled Wool, the Responsible Wool Standard, Recycled Down, Advanced Global Traceable Down and yarns derived from ocean plastic using the innovative Bureo Netplus material. The environmental impact of each item in the Patagonia range is considered from the start of the design process – it’s easier to address your impact on the planet by treading lightly in the first instance, rather than when the damage is done. We intend to be using preferred materials across 100% of its lines by 2025.
Fair Trade Certification
As of Spring 2022, 80% of Patagonia’s range is Fair Trade Certified Sewn ensuring that the workers who made their clothing receive a premium for their labour. Through this third-party certification, factory workers are guaranteed safe working practices, fair pay, and empowered to use the Fair Trade premium they receive to create a benefit for their community. This premium is controlled by the workers and spent democratically on initiatives such as childcare, worker education, or can simply be paid as a bonus.
Patagonia has spent decades building relationships with the factories who are part of their Fair Trade initiatives, and by collaborating with workers and owners have established a Fair Trade pathway that other businesses can join when making their products in these factories. The intention is that by 2025 Patagonia will be able to deliver a range that is 100% Fair Trade Certified Sewn.
1% for the Planet
Since 1985, Patagonia has given $160m to environmental grassroots activists working on solutions to the climate crisis through its commitment to 1% for the Planet. Founded by Yvon Chouinard and Craig Matthews, 1% for the Planet is an organization to which businesses and individuals can pledge to commit at least 1% of their annual turnover to environmental activism. This in turn builds an alliance of businesses who understand that the profit and loss mindset of our current model of capitalism is not concerned about the impact it has upon our home planet’s health. Presently only 3% of all global philanthropic giving goes towards environmental action. If you’re a business owner, have influence within a business, or an individual who gives a damn then you can find out more about 1% for the Planet here.
Iron Clad Guarantee
At Patagonia we guarantee everything we make under the Iron Clad Guarantee. If you are not satisfied with one of Patagonia’s products at the time you receive it, or if the product does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought if from or to Patagonia for repair, replacement or refund.
The most environmentally responsible item of clothing is the one you already own, so if it’s broke, fix it! Whilst Patagonia offers repairs on all its own product, we’re aware that very few other apparel manufacturers feel an obligation to be a part of their products’ lifecycle once it leaves their stores. Worn Wear was established as a Patagonia initiative to keep gear in play for longer by hosting events where trained repair specialists fix clothing and gear from any manufacturer for free. Why extend the life of gear? Because the best thing we can do for the planet is to cut down on consumption and get use out of the stuff we already own. Keeping your gear in play for another 9 months reduces its carbon, water and waste related footprint by 30%. You don’t have to wait for Worn Wear to roll into town though, you can find handy how to guides for simple fixes online.
How do you balance the need for performance in functional outdoor clothing, and your commitment to reducing your footprint?
One of the first products Yvon made was a piece of climbing equipment called the piton. A piton is a piece of forged steel that is hammered into a crack in the rock whilst climbing which, once a rope has been clipped to it, protects the climber. Whilst pitons were effective, their extensive use in the early days of climbing was damaging the rock and creating environmental harm to natural playgrounds. Recognising this harm, Yvon overnight both stopped producing the piton and discontinued his most lucrative product. The piton was then replaced with the nut, which instead of being harmfully hammered into rock could be respectfully placed and easily retrieved by hand – thereby leaving no trace whilst offering no compromise on performance. It is with that philosophy that Patagonia continues to approach product design. Responsibly produced product does not need to compromise on performance, but instead requires that we reconsider the method by which we attain that performance standard.
A modern example of this can be found among your assortment at Aphrodite with the Downdrift Jacket. It’s a retro inspired, city jacket designed to be functional for day-to-day life and weather. That’s apparent from the moment you put it on. What isn’t is the way the jacket is made. The face fabric of the jacket is made using 100% recycled fishing nets, reclaimed through Patagonia’s partner Bureo, and woven into a polyester fabric which removes our reliance on fossil fuel-based virgin plastic. Inside the jacket is 700 fill power Recycled Down saved from landfill, and all this warmth is stitched together by a garment worker in a Fair Trade Certified factory. Whilst there’s always ways to improve the Downdrift’s footprint, we’re proud of what we’ve developed and confidently cover it under our Iron Clad Guarantee.
Patagonia’s mission statement changed in 2018 to ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’. What does this mean, and what is Patagonia doing beyond addressing its product footprint?
Patagonia commitment to saving our home planet certainly did not start in 2018 with the change in mission statement. Whilst Yvon was discontinuing the harmful piton in 1972, Patagonia was beginning its journey in supporting grassroots environmental activism. This first came with the offering of a phone and a desk at the Patagonia offices for Friends of the Ventura River. This was a local environmental campaign looking to stop the construction of a dam which would have been catastrophic for local ecology. From this initial support came a more formalised commitment in 1985 to give 1% of all turnover to intersectional grassroots environmental organisations working to find solutions to the climate crisis. By working closely with grassroots organisations on the ground, and using our business voice Patagonia has been able to amplify successful campaigns such as the creation of the Vjosa National Park and the opposition to the Pitztal Otztal ski resort expansion. You too can connect with grassroots environmental groups and take action beside them through Patagonia Action Works.
As Patagonia exists within the systems of extractive capitalism, it has a voice that is heard by other businesses and governments. This voice has been exercised across the globe from suing the Trump administration for selling off public lands, to advocating that citizens exercise their democratic right to vote, and in the UK opposing the Police and Crime Bill 2021, which sought to remove many hard-won civil liberties. Patagonia is a proud member of the B Corp community, who seek to put people and planet over profits whilst sharing best practices to enable other businesses to follow suite. Leaving the development of environmentally responsible practices such as Regenerative Organic Cotton production open source enables other businesses to follow the model of business unusual demonstrated by Patagonia.
Our recent announcement of making Earth our only shareholder should not have come as a surprise to anyone paying attention.
Patagonia famously advertised on Black Friday 2011 ‘Don’t Buy this Jacket’. How important is longevity to you as a brand?
There’s no business on a dead planet. Yvon has always encouraged experimentation at Patagonia and the Black Friday advert of 2011 was an example of Patagonia’s disruptive, reimagining of extractive capitalism. That said it’s very easy to reflect on past successes and the reality is that if we have any hope of a thriving planet – much less a thriving business – it’s going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. It’s been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business. We’re just getting started.
Big thanks for Harry for taking the time to answer our questions. If you want to checkout the brands latest collection you can find it on our Patagonia page.