It all started with a red jacket.
The jacket was supposed to be practical, warm, suitable for the mountains, but also thin and easy to stuff in a self-stowing pocket. But at the same time, it was beautifully tailored, made of organic cotton, in a wonderful color. The logo was a source of a big joy for me, not because I am into brands, but because it presented Fitz Roy – the majestic mountain that stole my heart during my trip to the Argentinian part of Patagonia. I started to read about Patagonia Inc, and it turned out to be an endless source of inspiration for me. The company consistently maintains the image of an environmentally friendly company and is actively involved in environmental protection. Examples? Since 1996, it began using only organic cotton to produce its clothes (natural cotton is the most devastating fabric for the environment. Surprise!). This transition was a massive logistical challenge, but that didn’t discourage them. Since 1985 it has donated 1% of its revenue to nature conservation, and by 2007 it had raised $ 29 million. Impressive, right? It’s just the beginning.
I came across the name Chouinard (founder of the brand) many times, exploring the topics of environment preservation and combating fast fashion. Finally, I bought a book written by Chouinard himself, with a very catchy title “Let my people go surfing”. This book shows that when a company is run by a person with strong beliefs, he can use its products to spread those beliefs among the public.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say Patagonia’s activity is an attempt to question the culture of consumption, which is one of the causes of the global ecological crisis. Chouinard says, “At Patagonia, the protection and preservation of the environment aren’t what we do after hours. It’s the reason we’re in business and every day’s work.”
One of Patagonia’s ads stated: “Do not buy this jacket.” The advertising poster urged consumers to always think carefully before buying new clothes, and informed that the company was committed to repairing, recycling, and finding a new home for the clothes no longer worn. But also promised to create multifunctional clothes of the highest quality, serving for years. These were not just some empty words – the company has in its archives almost all the fabrics ever used in its production, its store in Reno has the largest repair shop in North America. They record instructional videos so that everyone can make their own repairs. Some larger stores also have the opportunity to make less complicated repairs.
Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, says that we live in a culture in which the exchange for the new is a king. We are only consumers, not owners of the things we buy. The owner is entitled to be responsible for his purchase, from cleaning to repair, after sharing it. And we’re not. Unclear repair policies provided by most companies, refusals to repair due to defect caused” by consumer’s fault” – all that makes us buy “fast”, cheap clothes we wear few times, throw away and buy new – contributing to ecological catastrophe.
The ad was a huge success, but there were people who stated that the biggest help Patagonia could offer to earth is closing its business. The answer of the brand and its fans was strong: Business is one of the most powerful tools for change. If the brand didn’t exist, there would be no Common Threads Initiative (which resulted in recycling 45 tons of old clothes into 35 tons of new clothes), World Trout Initiative (protecting and restoring wild fish), there would be no brand who creates fleece out of recycled soda bottles (!). There would be no example for others.
“Let my people go surfing” is also a great lesson for all present and future businessmen on how to create a workplace where employees are happy to come every day. Chouinard says he doesn’t care when an employee works, it’s important that the job is done. He knows that a serious surfer doesn’t plan to go surfing next Tuesday at two o’clock. You go surfing when the waves, the tide, and wind are right. His first business was a blacksmith shop, (which produced the best climbing equipment in the world at the time), that shut down whenever the waves were great for surfing. Flexible time schedule is a principle.
His company blurs the distinction between work, friends, and family. In addition, since 1983 (!!) he has provided its employees’ childcare center in the workplace.
Probably someone will say that yeah, bullshit, a company like that causes more harm than good. That it is all about the money anyway. This is all true, but it is impossible to underestimate the immense work Patagonia has done. Especially in proving others, that it’s possible to do business differently. If every company in the world was so concerned, the earth today would be in a completely different condition.