Founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia has been leading the way on environmental issues whilst quadrupling sales over the past 10 years to reach $750 million in 2015.
Who are Patagonia?
Outdoor apparel company Patagonia has had environmental causes at its heart since its inception. Yvon Chouinard wanted to build a brand for people who shared his passion for exploring and protecting nature.
Since the 70s when the business was founded Patagonia has become an aspirational clothing brand for a loyal fan base and with increasing mainstream concern for the environment – the brand is going from strength to strength.
In a world of fast fashion, Patagonia has been pushing the agenda for a more sustainable approach to clothing and retail for years. They focus on producing long lasting garments and were amongst the first championing recycling used garments with WornWear, their “program that keeps gear in action longer.”
The best example of a purpose driven brand?
Patagonia is perhaps the best example of standing for something that leads to business success.
With many companies treating sustainability and ethics as a CSR issue, Patagonia has embedded its purpose at its core and everything the business does is driven by it.
Under CEO Rose Marcario the brand has doubled down on the issues important to the brand. In a world of Trump and Brexit it would be easy for brands to cave to populist views, instead the brand has stuck to its message and gone further with public statements against the president’s policies that actually grew sales.
By having a purpose, following through on its core values and actively contributing to the environmental conversation they have positioned themselves as the aspirational clothing brand for people who care about the world they live in. Something more and more people are aligned with.
1% for the planet
Consumers are demanding more of the brands they buy from and Patagonia has been leading the way on ethical fashion for a while. They are championed for their commitment to the planet with all of their cotton certified organic and a large proportion of their materials being made from recycled fabrics.
Their commitment to the 1% For The Planet started in 1986 when founder Yvon Chouinard committed to giving 1% of sales revenue to the “preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” Since then the company has embarked on two notable Black Friday campaigns, the first in 2011 when Patagonia printed a full-page ad in The New York Times encouraging customers to not buy its products.
More recently in 2016 when the company gave 100% of Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organisations – raising $10 million and gaining 24,000 new customers in one day.
It’s hard to quantify the positive effects their environmental issues have on sales but it’s easy to see how 24,000 new customers can add to the long term sales success of the company.
Caring for people
One of the issues raised against fast fashion retailers are the poor labour conditions.
Patagonia received the second highest rating in the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report, which takes into consideration payment of a living wage and worker empowerment. They are transparent about who they work with and publicly lists suppliers – something fashion retailers often prefer to hide.
They have taken steps to build a sustainable supply chain that works for everyone involved, not just the shareholders.
Transparency and quick responses to sustainability concerns
One of the words most often used to describe Patagonia is transparent.
Whenever the company has been caught short on its own commitment to animal welfare or worker rights it has been quick to respond and take action. When its use of bird feathers in its products was questioned it was quick to rectify the issue and work with Four Paws and other brands like The North Face to commit to only using down produced without animal suffering.
Patagonia: A blueprint for business?
Without being too fangirly here, Patagonia has been leading the way on how to do business for years and more brands need to take note.
What can we learn from Patagonia and the 3 key elements of their success?
- Sustainability: Businesses can’t continue taking. Consumers are demanding more and sustainability is something climbing to the top of a lot of people’s lists of values. Brands who don’t look at the impact they’re having on the planet will find themselves left behind as customers leave them in favour of more sustainable brands that align with their world view.
- Transparency: Patagonia hasn’t got a perfect track record but the difference is they respond quickly and effectively. When they’re called out for something (having known about it or not) they take big action to rectify the issue. They pride themselves on being open – something consumers love and buy into.
- Standing for something: By having a purpose at its core the brand has been able to attract customers and employees who are passionate about the same issues. Innovative marketing wins have been suggested by employees who have bought into the brand’s mission. It’s reported the 2016 Black Friday 100% For The Planet Campaign was signed off by the CEO within 30 minutes in a text message! By standing for something Patagonia has been able to attract the right team consistently over many, many years.
Doing good makes business sense
Brands often see looking after the environment as a cost.
Over the last 40 years Patagonia, with its continued business growth and an army of raving fans, has proved that by embedding a social cause at your core you can not only thrive as a business but also have a positive impact on the planet, people and culture.
More businesses are sitting up and noticing the need to do more for the planet.
Patagonia continues to set a blueprint for them to follow to create a more sustainable and ethical business world.