Thursday, June 21, 2012

Patagonia, inc.

I have always loved Patagonia. I don't mean the region in South America, but the company. If I had to list people that have influenced me, that list would have to include Yvon Chouinard. Yvon Chouinard is a climber, kayaker, fly fisherman and surfer. The man changed the way we climb, and then changed the way we protect ourselves when we climb. That was his first step towards making the world a better place, but he didn't stop there. He didn't like the damage that his pitons did to rock, so he made a way for us to do it cleanly. He founded Patagonia clothing and then changed that industry as well. Before Patagonia started demanding it, it wasn't possible to get organic cotton for clothing. He made it possible because he demanded it. I like to think that a lot of the amazing things that people accomplish, is done so because they simply don't know better. A lot of educated people would say that it doesn't make financial sense to pay for expensive organic cotton when you can get amazing - though non-organic - inexpensively. They may also say that it doesn't make sense to locally source something when it is less expensive to get it sourced around the world and have it shipped. They might also say why would you want to power your distribution center from the sun, and recycle everything - so you have zero waste - at your facility. All of these things were done by Yvon Chouinard because I think he didn't know better, but he did know it was right. He knew that Organic cotton was better for the environment and the people wearing it. He knew that shipping product from China to the US even though it was less expensive was intolerable because of the waste created by the aircraft and ships that transported the product cheaply. Most importantly he knew that it was his responsibility to have Patagonia have the smallest impact it could on the environment. These are three things the he and Patagonia made happen, but lets not forget the common threads program, and 1% for the planet, and surfboards that don't break, and fleece made from soda bottles (okay that was malden mills, but at patagonia's urging). The list goes on and on.

But things are changing at Patagonia. For me it started like this. In 1995 I started buying Lotus designs pfd's. I owned several. In 1999 Patagonia purchased Lotus. I felt that this was a good move, as Yvon was dedicated paddler, they would drive the company to bigger and better things. I have owned - and loved - many pieces of lotus gear - Patagonia actually moved its paddle sports apparel to the Lotus name instead of the other way around. - Rash guards, and paddling pants. The best Sea Kayaking Skanorak I have ever owned has the Lotus Flower on it. But then in 2007 Patagonia got out of the paddle sports business. Many blamed it on the small market space, many on the fact that Phil Curry - the founder of Lotus - was no longer under a no compete clause and formed Astral Buoyancy, and was now competing directly with his own company. But I think Yvon was no longer interested in paddling.

I read and loved 'let my people go surfing' a memoir and history of the man and company. A great read and there was something in particular that struck me. Yvon said his goal with Patagonia was not to make the product line bigger, but make it smaller. Mort targeted. More precisely driven to accomplish their needs. But Shortly after that book was released I saw changes occurring at Patagonia. I saw product lines swell. (today if you go to you will find no less than 15 hard shell water proof breathable jackets.... In men's alone)

This past weekend I was home in NY, and took a walk to what was my local Patagonia store in Soho. I saw a lot of clothing. A lot of non technical clothing for people who want to look like they do things in the outdoors, but don't actually do things in the outdoors. It made me sad that the Patagonia that I knew and loved wasn't there anymore. It was like being in a relationship where your partner grows apart form you. You still love her, but she isn't the same. Patagonia still does amazing things for the environment. I think this is where they excel. I suspect Yvon is spending less time in the board room, guiding his company, and more time on the long board. I don't blame him. But I do miss my old Patagonia.

As an aside, I love the region of Patagonia as well, and hope to paddle there someday. If I do I think after the trip I will stay here.


  1. You know what?
    I've wanted to stay there for a while too.
    You go paddle and I'll meet you back at the hotel.

  2. Found this surfing after trying to revive an old Skanorak. I looks like the classic design is dead except in homemade "hunting parkis". It was the go to jacket hear in southeast Alaska since its introduction in the nineties and I went through at least three I can remember. Instead of a zillion fashion designs Patagonia should have stuck with the classics. I bought a "Patta Gucci" (as we call it) backcountry ski jacket on deep clearance. Its ok but I still preferred putting on the old Skanorak for serious backcountry treks of all types, even though it doesn't have an ipod pocket (sarcasm).