Let us paint a picture for you. Yvon Chouinard is a man who likes to spend his days alone in his home in a rural town named Moose nestled in a peaceful valley in the state of Wyoming, USA. He likes to have phone conversations with his friends on his landline but doesn’t text, tweet or email. In fact, he very rarely even uses his mobile phone which is more often than not, out of battery.
Not exactly the first image that springs to mind when you think of a wealthy businessman, is it? However, Yvon Chouinard is the owner and co-founder of the billion-dollar clothing brand Patagonia. Now, don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying that everyone needs to eschew all devices and lead technology-free lives (as a digital marketing company we would be pretty much guaranteed to go out of business). What you can do though, is learn from the example set by Patagonia.
THE BEGINNING OF PATAGONIA
Yvon Chouinard’s love of rock climbing was sparked at the age of 14. He started off climbing at various local spots but soon developed a thirst to head to Yosemite in order to learn how to climb on more major rocks and walls. Unable to afford the equipment he knew would be required, Chouinard taught himself how to blacksmith using old equipment that he found at a junkyard, and crafted himself the pieces of climbing equipment which he used during his early days of climbing in Yosemite.
Word quickly spread about Chouinhard’s hand-crafted equipment and all of a sudden, he was in business. This company became known as Chouinard Equipment which, over time, evolved into Patagonia as Yvon Chouinard became aware of a widespread need for a different kind of clothing for outdoor and adventure sports.
“No young kid growing up ever dreams of someday becoming a businessman. The Koch brothers and Donald Trumps of the business world are heroes to no one except other businessmen with similar values. I wanted to be a fur trapper when I grew up”
-Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
Patagonia was born, not out of a thirst for success or money or power, but out of Chouinard’s absolute and almost desperate desire to pursue his passion for the outdoors. At Ronin, we believe that true success is built by true passion.
DON’T SHOP AT PATAGONIA
You shouldn’t buy a Patagonia jacket. At least that’s what Patagonia’s marketing campaign stated in the lead up to Christmas in 2013.
This campaign was an attempt to encourage consumers and Patagonia’s own customers to consider the negative impact their purchases were having on the environment- no matter how detrimental an effect it had on their own business. At the time Patagonia had just begun the ‘Common Threads Initiative’ to emphasise the importance of repairing and reusing our clothes and only buying what we truly need. Afterall the entire Patagonia business was built upon a passion and love for the outdoors and so Chouinard was, and is, determined to do everything within his power to protect the world around us.
UPHOLDING THEIR VALUES
To this day, Patagonia has echoed these anti-corporate values, with Chouinard himself saying, “The reason why we won’t face up to our problems with the environment is that we are the problem… We’re the ones telling the corporations to make more stuff and make it as cheap and as disposable as possible. We’re not citizens anymore. We’re consumers.” This sentiment and Patagonia’s core values were truly put to the test in 2015 when they found themselves in the midst of a human rights scandal.
What was different about this scandal was that Patagonia were the ones to disclose and uncover the human rights abuse which was taking place within the manufacturing of their very own products in Taiwan. If it weren’t for their sincere efforts to do the right thing, it’s likely that there would never have been a scandal in the first place.
Upon discovering the abuse, Patagonia didn’t try to sweep the issue under the carpet or ignore responsibility but instead, they blew the whistle on their own supply chain and used phrases like “modern-day slavery” and “human trafficking” to expose the situation and emphasise how horrified they were by their own participation. Patagonia then dedicated its efforts to developing new workers standards and repaying those who had been mistreated and abused.
RETRACTING THE WALL-STREET UNIFORM
Again, last year, Patagonia made a business move that reflected their strong sense of ethics and global sustainability. In recent years, Patagonia products ordered by major companies with their business logo emblazoned on them became the unofficial uniform of high flying bankers and tech corporates.
However, in 2018, Patagonia changed their mission statement to the phrase, ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’. A few months later, the company really put their money where their mouth was when an email from an unidentified Patagonia supplier was released stating that Patagonia would no longer brand their products with the logos of companies who were “ecologically damaging” or who didn’t demonstrate the same level of environmental activism as themselves.
Once again, Patagonia made a decision that most would deem to be a poor business decision or financially unwise, especially when you’re standing up to some of the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world. However, it wasn’t about winning a popularity contest or boosting revenue- this decision was about standing up for what you believe in. In turn, it’s still highly likely that your brand will profit with aligned target demographics.
UN CHAMPIONS OF THE EARTH AWARD
Most recently, Patagonia was given the ‘Champions of the Earth’ award by the United Nations. This is a massive achievement as this award is designed to recognise those people and organisations that are “champions taking bold action for our world”. If nothing else, this is a clear sign that Patagonia is so much more than a clothing brand. They are an organisation who are on a clear and determined mission to save the earth and pioneer sustainability.
“From a small company making tools for climbers, Patagonia has become a global leader in sustainability. Its drive to preserve the planet’s ecosystems runs through the entire business from the products made and the materials used to the donation of money to environmental causes.”
Almost 70% of products made by Patagonia are created from recycled materials. Since 1986 they have been donating at least 1% of their sales towards efforts to preserve the natural environment. The majority of Patagonia clothing is made from organic cotton and hemp to ensure that the items are simple and durable- an attempt to ensure that customers don’t wastefully overbuy their clothes. These initiatives and actions, along with so many others are evidence that Patagonia are truly living out their mission statement of “saving our home planet” in every way possible.