Quality, longevity and saving the planet

As it turns 50, Patagonia continues to be a trailblazing brand in both outdoor apparel and climate change activism. We look at what lessons other brands can draw from its approach

Last year, the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia considerably raised the stakes in the brand purpose game when founder Yvon Chouinard announced that “Earth is now our only shareholder”.

In practical terms, this meant the construction of two entities: the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which now controls 100% of the company’s voting stock and will “protect the company’s values”; and the Holdfast Collective, “a non-profit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature”. Any profits not reinvested into Patagonia would “be distri­buted as ­dividends to protect the ­planet”, said the company.

The news caused a storm in the media, but in many ways it was a natural, if significant,
development for Patagonia, which since its formation has been committed to purpose over profit. In our confusing age of ‘purpose-washing’ (when brands trumpet good deeds in their marketing campaigns which can often disguise bad practices), it threw down the gauntlet to other brands, providing a serious and credible ­example of how business can truly be used for ‘good’.

But such an extreme approach could also be viewed as overwhelming: how can most brands measure up? Perhaps not by copying Patagonia’s example wholesale, but instead being inspired by some of its individual initiatives, such as a focus on quality and an increased emphasis on repairing rather than discarding items.

Top: The Patagonia Campus in Ventura, California. Photo: Kyle Sparks; Above and below: Stills from the Patagonia Protect Our Oceans campaign