THIS OLD THING
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.