Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard – True Climate Hero

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From rock climber to craftsman to billionaire entrepreneur, Patagonia’s, Yvon Chouinard’s life has been remarkable. He continues that trend into retirement by donating his three billion-dollar company to the protection of the planet.

I have a new hero: Yvon Chouinard, founder and (former) CEO of Patagonia. Instead of an IPO on the stock market, selling the brand to another, more prominent company, or simply handing it down to his family, Yvon decided to put his money where his mouth is and give it to the earth. The Patagonia brand is now owned in its entirety by Holdfast Collective, the foundation he created to carry forward his vision of protecting the planet.

“Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.” – Yvon Chouinard, 2022.

Holdfast Collective is organized as a 501(c)4 corporation, a structure that has been criticized as a mechanism for large corporations to create nonprofits that can spend untaxed donations to influence politics, all while concealing donors’ names. Sometimes these nonprofits lobby against environmental laws intended to protect clean air and water. Sometimes they lobby against land use restrictions designed to protect wild places from development. Holdfast owns 98%, but Patagonia remains a for-profit business, a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation. They will continue to make profits, but the earnings will go directly to fighting for the planet instead of benefitting a few wealthy people.

It is ironic and fun to know that the same tools usually exploited by destructive companies are now being leveraged by one that does good for the planet instead.

I have admired Mr. Chouinard for a long time and have read several of his books over the years. He and I share an interest in protecting wild places, providing healthy workplaces for employees and in entrepreneurship with reduced environmental impact. His is a long history of direct action, from buying large tracts of wilderness worldwide and protecting them in perpetuity. He has engaged in political activism at all levels, including actively going after those in power at the federal level in the US government. He doesn’t shy away from a fight for what is right.

In 2011, Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the New York Times caused all sorts of buzz ahead of Black Friday, the day of huge discounted sales in all aspects of consumer goods. The idea that a major clothing manufacturer would tell people to buy less seemed unfathomable. But they did and further cemented their reputation as the clothing company that takes action, even if it went against their interests. Of course, by doing this one act, they received even more sales than ever in the weeks afterward. Going further, they closed their operations on Black Friday and gave their staff the day off. It seems Patagonia would instead you buy an item once for full price and then service and repair it for the rest of its useful life than produce low-cost, low-quality “sale” price items to encourage and profit from unchecked consumerism.

The company also provides a buyback program where they will take back used items for store credit, clean and repair them, and then resell them on their WornWear website. They also sell products that have had flaws discovered in production. Mistakes happen, as they say, and instead of destroying items with a few flaws, they sell them under the WornWear banner at a discounted price. 

Patagonia is careful not to call themselves “sustainable” as they feel it would be disingenuous; they don’t control their entire supply chain after all. In a world full of fast fashion brands that regularly get caught greenwashing, their commitment to actually doing the right thing is very refreshing. 

Patagonia is now my go-to outdoor apparel brand, and you should support them too. 

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  1. I have always loved their commitment to quality. Now I love them EVEN MORE for their commitment to my mother: THE EARTH🤸🏿‍♂️

    1. I agree 100%, and the way they view apparel as hardware that should be repaired, as opposed to fashion to be quickly discarded, is very telling. If you are interested, I highly recommend his book “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.” It is less a business book and more about the man, the history of the company and the philosophy behind how he ran it.

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