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Interviews

The Truth About Patagonia: Environmental Mission vs. the Mainstream

“I’m in business to save the planet. It sounds corny, but that’s the reason.” A story of brand perception vs. brand identity. Hear Patagonia PR Manager J.J. Huggins' take on Patagonia's impact on the planet and how it stays true to its original mission of saving the planet.

By

Le

on

November 15, 2019

Patagonia's Case: A Mismatch Between Brand Identity and Recent Consumer Perception

If you're involved in the startup world, you can recognize Patagonia's place in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Patagonia's fleece vests are a staple in the "startup bro" starter pack and have become mainstream in urban areas, making them a well-embraced meme in the startup community. Your New York finance bro wouldn't be caught dead at his 3pm coffee without his corporate Patagonia quarter zip pullover jacket.

However, despite this recent surge towards the mainstream, we're covering an interview with Patagonia today to share the authentic mission that the company has continued to pursue since Day One. In the popular sportswear industry, there seems to be a gap between Patagonia's consumer perception by the public and the brand identity they are striving for their customers to recognize.

This is a common problem many brands, even well-established ones, face: the lag between image and identity. While Patagonia's branding has now attracted the startup bros who buy the brand for the social clout, everything internally (including hiring, supply chain, management, work culture, product development, etc) and everything for its most devoted fan-base (of outdoors customers and environmentalists) revolve around saving the planet.

Patagonia has never been a fashion brand and probably never will be. From the company's core, Patagonia is an Activist Company, devoted to environmental and social responsibility. While many businesses, even some B corp companies, focus on corporate social responsibility second, Patagonia's entire purpose and vision has been planet first, products second.

That's why with its expansion to the mainstream urban market, the last thing Patagonia needs is for people to think that they're only "doing good" because it looks good for the brand. No. They've always been about saving the environment, and The Good Startup wants to share the good it still does today.

“Somehow, the desert would always remain in the recesses of my mind—that project I’d get to the next season, that crack we scoped that we needed to get anchors on or sometimes just that meditation and erasing of anything from the past or present.” -Luke Mehall, The Desert. Photo: Greg Cairns

Here are just some of the environmental actions Patagonia takes to protect Planet Earth:

  • Supporting grassroots organizations with resources, training, and press awareness
  • Giving 1% of all sales to environmental organizations
  • Funding environmental grants - up to $15,000 to hundreds of groups
  • Being environmentally-conscious in every step of its supply chain and product development
  • Pursuing initiatives to help employees become activists as well
  • Forming corporate partnerships with B Lab, 1% for the Planet, Bluesign Technologies, Conservation Alliance, and more

A Fast Chat with J.J. Huggins, PR and Communication Manager at Patagonia

Because Patagonia was busy planning and sponsoring the Climate Strike a few weeks back, our interview with J.J. was brief but succinct. If you have any questions for the company, feel free to submit them below this article!

How did you find yourself at Patagonia, and what was it like starting out?

"I started as a “seasonal sales associate” at our Santa Monica store in 2012 and never left. I now work on the PR and communications team in the corporate headquarters.

Joining Patagonia was the first time I found coworkers who, despite coming from different backgrounds, listened to the same music and did the same sports as me, and we pushed each other to become better environmentalists."

Patagonia was founded in 1973 in Ventura, CA.

The company's founder, Yvon Chouinard, began his entrepreneurial endeavors selling climbing gear that wouldn't damage the rocks he was climbing on. From the start, he was conscious about the environment, and that's the culture that Patagonia tries to bring every single day to its brand.

You can see the company's love for the outdoors reflected in Patagonia's hiring process and employee work culture today too. It's remarkable that they've been able to keep the culture and vision Chouinard had since day one.

In an interview with Men's Health, Chouinard declared,

“I’m in business to save the planet. It sounds corny, but that’s the reason.”

Can you tell me about your supply chain and how you link outdoor clothing with your company's mission and values?

"Patagonia was born out of a company, Chouinard Equipment, that made hard goods for mountain climbing. Quality was essential, because peoples’ lives depended on the equipment.

That ethos carried forward into Patagonia’s clothing — we want our customers to buy products made from quality materials and craftsmanship, therefore reducing people’s need to consume the planet’s resources.

We’re working to neutralize our carbon footprint by 2025, and we’re using the new Regenerative Organic Certification to expand regenerative organic agriculture as the source of fiber for our apparel and our food for Patagonia Provisions, which will restore topsoil and capture carbon out of the atmosphere."

The Patagonia Mission:

"We’re in business to save our home planet."

Patagonia keeps a three-pronged approach in maintaining its mission: build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a difference in this world?

"1. Stop waiting.

2. Find something positive you can start doing.

3. Grow from there."

Simple words to live by in the moment, but taking action is where the progress starts. Patagonia has an Action Works program that connects you with environmental groups, petitions, and volunteering events in your city so you can start doing the most you can and make an impact right away.

What has been a moment that made you think "yes. this is why I do what I do"

"I just got back from Patagonia’s bi-annual Tools For Grassroots Activists Conference, where I met dozens of environmental activists who work and volunteer for our nonprofit partners. Their expertise and passion far surpassed my highest expectations."

Tools for Grassroots Activists

Patagonia's "Tools for Grassroots Activists" Conference has been held every two years and helps grassroots organizations learn about the resources available to them. Beyond just keynote speakers, workshops, and resources, this conference also offers community leaders deep, strong connections with other individuals destined to change the world together.

What would you say is Patagonia's impact on the planet so far, and what are some of the most notable, successful campaigns Patagonia has had?

"We have given more than $100 million to environmental organizations, and we support activists around the world, but still, Patagonia takes more from the planet than it gives.

We’re working to change that through the use of regenerative organic agriculture. Regenerative organic agriculture builds upon USDA organic standards with an additional emphasis on soil health and sequestering carbon.

This is one of the most promising tools in the fight to save our home planet."

What is regenerative organic agriculture?

Regenerative organic agriculture is farming that improves the land rather than just doing no harm to it. Regenerative organic agriculture technology improves soil quality and creates healthy, productive farms. It's better than the current state of the land now because we're currently dealing with soil decarbonation, erosion, chemical pollution, and desertification - which contribute to world hunger, biodiversity loss, and global warming.

What's the best way someone reading this interview can help the planet right now?

"Visit Patagonia Action Works and look at nonprofits in your area. We have listed more than 1,000 environmental nonprofits that Patagonia supports financially, and there are numerous opportunities mentioned for people to help out.

If you’re a farmer, consider looking into regenerative organic certification."

Do more with the programs Patagonia is creating or supporting at patagonia.com/actionworks.

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Thanks for being interested in doing good. Please remember to click the social media icons to share The Good Startup with friends!
Something went wrong, please enter your valid email address
Do Things Worth Doing.

The Good Startup is this ambiguous, awkward brand going through puberty right now. Rebellious, existential - but still a heart of gold - I have this weird hobby of designing ways to make your life better (and more badass) than it was before.