Patagonia Brand Manifests Success Through Environmental Activism
Written by Matt Clement
Retail brands often concern themselves exclusively with low-cost manufacturing prices, affordable materials, and fast production rates with little consideration for the environmental impact their practices are having. However, the same cannot be said for the retail giant and environmental advocate, Patagonia.
Initially built as a small company that focused on climbing tools, the evolution of Patagonia’s brand has focused on high quality and ethically-sourced products with roots in environmental sustainability. With the mission statement of “We’re in business to save our home planet” steering Patagonia’s every move, this company has transformed from a fashionable, outdoor-wear retail company to an environmental advocate where the product comes second.
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The roots of the Patagonia brand were founded by avid climber, Yvon Chouinard in 1953 at the young age of 14. As a member of the Southern California Falconry Club, Chouinard’s interest in rock climbing sprouted from the desire to improve his ability to catch and train hawks and falcons.
With this in mind, he began to create and sell iron pitons in the backyard of his parents’ house in Burbank, California, later going into partnership with aeronautical engineer, Tom Frost, due to the demand of Chouinard’s products. This venture, called Chouinard Equipment, became the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the U.S. by 1970. Intriguingly, this was also the point in history where their mission began to change.
Labeled an “environmental villain” due to their pitons damaging the rocks they were installed within, Chounard’s team developed alternative aluminum chocks as one of their first initiatives to become more environmentally friendly.
This passion for environmentally sustainable solutions continued even as Chouinard began to phase himself out of the climbing equipment business in the late 1980s, creating his now iconic clothing brand, Patagonia. Chouinard Equipment was renamed Black Diamond Equipment as a sibling company of Patagonia, and has similarly become well known for their sustainability initiatives.
Since the early 2000s, the Patagonia brand’s environmental efforts have spiked enormously. Patagonia’s four core values include
- Building the best product
- Causing no unnecessary harm
- Using business to protect nature
- Refusing to be bound by convention
From utilizing sustainable materials such as fleece made from recycled plastic, organic cotton, fiber made from wood pulp, and more– to their involvement in countless initiatives, Patagonia’s scope of environmental causes has no end. Among their many initiatives include:
- A transition from dams toward lower-impact energy-water sources
- The successful establishment of Bears Ears as a National Monument
- Conservation of the Jumbo Valley and Central Purcells in Canada
- Support of four bills in California Legislature to fight risky oil development on the coast
- Preservation of Mirador, the iconic headland in Punta de Lobos, Chile
- The Mile for Mile campaign to build over 50 miles of new trails in Patagonia Park
- Aiming to be carbon neutral at all Patagonia locations by 2025
- Pledging 1 percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment (established in 1985)
- The “Worn Wear: Better Than New” initiative to repair, reuse, and recycle Patagonia garments
- Supporting takayna/Tarkine, Tasmania as a World Heritage Site
- Acting as the first national environmental campaign to de-urbanize the Yosemite Valley
- The abolishment of grizzly bear trophy hunting
- And most recently, preservation of the wild fish population, for which you can see a video below.
Significance of Activism
Although no easy feat, the Patagonia brand continues to make strides in the environmental community at a time in history where it has become a point of contention. As President Trump’s tenure in office continues, so does worry about our environment among many. Patagonia has seemingly doubled their environmental activism efforts since the president’s election, and it has certainly paid off.
This may be because recent research proves that consumers prefer sustainable companies, citing an increase in strategic spending by millennials on brands with transparent and ethical business standards. The idea of “voting with your dollar” has become a staple in current culture, leading to Patagonia’s inevitable success.
In fact, since 2014 Patagonia’s revenue and profit have quadrupled under the current CEO, Rose Marcario’s sustainability-focused leadership. With their net worth currently estimated at $1 billion, the Patagonia brand was named number six on the World’s Most Innovative Companies list in 2018, further proving the significance of companies taking a stance on hot button issues.
While the value of environmental sustainability is often overlooked, Patagonia’s unique approach to fusing a clothing brand with activism has continued to draw extensive attention and success to an otherwise niche brand. By demonstrating genuine care and concern for our planet, their position in the marketplace gives them the financial advantage to taking action, further demonstrating that Patagonia isn’t just a brand you wear, but an ideology you represent.
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