the founder of out­door cloth­ing com­pany Patag­o­nia has some­how man­aged to find world­wide suc­cess by telling peo­ple to buy less

What if two of your com­pany’s core val­ues work against each other? This was the re­al­i­sa­tion of Patag­o­nia six years ago when, af­ter launch­ing their rev­o­lu­tion­ary re­cy­cling pro­gram, Com­mon Threads, they hit a hur­dle when try­ing to com­bine both dura­bil­ity and re­cy­cla­bil­ity.

“Our cloth­ing is much too durable to be re­cy­cled,” says Patag­o­nia pro­gram man­ager Nel­lie Co­hen. “We re­alised that our stuff just doesn’t wear out, aside from our swimwear and some of our base lay­ers. It has a life­span three or four times longer than many prod­ucts, but that comes at a price – it’s less en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.”

Ever since re­luc­tant busi­ness­man Yvon Chouinard launched Patag­o­nia as a climb­ing equip­ment com­pany in the early 1950s with a new type of ice axe – their hero prod­uct – the out­door ap­parel com­pany has fol­lowed a mis­sion state­ment that prom­ises to “strive to do no harm” to the en­vi­ron­ment and “de­crease the prob­lem” where pos­si­ble.

They’re fa­mous for “earth tax­ing” them­selves one per cent of their an­nual sales, which are do­nated to grass roots en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, and ac­cord­ing to its founder, Patag­o­nia mea­sures its suc­cess on the num­ber of “threats averted” from old forests they’ve pre­served, to mines they’ve stopped be­ing dug and pes­ti­cides they’ve stopped be­ing sprayed.

So, how could the brand, which says the health of the planet is their bot­tom line, com­bat the land­fill cre­ated by their own cult cloth­ing?

WORN OUT or worn in? Patag­o­nia is tak­ing a RAD­I­CAL ap­proach – URG­ING cus­tomers not to BUY NEW clothes. So HOW are their PROF­ITS still GROW­ING? We RE­ALISED that our STUFF just DOESN’T wear out.

“Some of our thought lead­ers saw an op­por­tu­nity,” says Nel­lie. “What if we turned qual­ity into a value propo­si­tion? If you in­vest in one of our prod­ucts you won’t need to re­place it, but if you do, Patag­o­nia will stand by you, ei­ther fix it or swap it for some­thing else that works bet­ter for you.”

This is how the Worn Wear pro­gram, which Nel­lie man­ages, was born – it’s an ini­tia­tive that en­cour­ages cus­tomers to spend less money at Patag­o­nia and in­stead re­pair, re­sell or trade in their favourite gar­ments, with the com­pany’s bless­ing.

Launched as a blog where peo­ple could share sto­ries about their fond­est mem­o­ries of their old­est Patag­o­nia gar­ment, it’s led to a US tour with trucks turned into rolling re­pair work­shops, a doc­u­men­tary film and an ecom­merce plat­form where cus­tomers can buy sec­ond-hand Patag­o­nia at a bar­gain price.

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