(This story was updated on 6/7/2023.)
Patagonia’s loyal shoppers know that if a piece of gear or clothing needs repair, the company will fix it.
Customers often come to their stores with well-loved items that they’ve had for years – if not decades.
They’ll bring in a vest or a jacket and say, “I love it, but I’ve beat the shit out of it,” said Aileen Ottenweller, head of brand and business impact at Patagonia, in an interview with The Daily.
As the Ventura, California-based clothing retailer handles the small repairs, customers tell stories of pieces of gear and clothing that are passed down from generation to generation.
“Over time, after having these conversations with our customers, we were like ‘we need to share these principles with the world,’” Ottenweller said.
A 50-Year Legacy
On its 50th birthday, the company is considering its identity in the outdoor space, its values and commitments, and its proudest accomplishments, Ottenweller said.
The company is looking ahead at leaving a legacy of products that can be repaired and resold to the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.
“Building quality, long-lasting products is a core tenet,” she added. “We want to keep all of our gear in play.”
For example, in 2017, the company launched its Worn Wear online store, a marketplace for used Patagonia goods.
During Cyber Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, Worn Wear discounted everything 20%, and the site saw its second-highest traffic day since it launched.
To that end, the company is hoping to continue to educate consumers about buying high-quality, used gear.
“But we need a lot more people in the industry to move to the idea of secondhand and repair to get the traction we’ll want and we’ll need,” Ottenweller said.
Patagonia owns and operates more than 70 retail stores globally, in more than 10 countries, as well as factories in more than 15 countries.
The company, which posts nearly $1.5 billion in annual revenue, changed its ownership structure in 2022.
The new owners are the Holdfast Collective and the Patagonia Purpose Trust. The Holdfast Collective owns 98% of the company and all of the nonvoting stock. The Patagonia Purpose Trust owns 2% of the company and all of the voting stock.
The Holdfast Collective is a not-for-profit that will use its funding to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities, according to the company.
With all of the voting stock of the company, the Patagonia Purpose Trust has the right to approve key company decisions, like who sits on the board of directors and what changes can be made to the company’s legal charter.
Patagonia is not a nonprofit. It operates as a for-profit business, a certified B Corporation and a California benefit corporation.
Regenerative Collaborations and Acquisitions
To help lead the industry, Patagonia brings other businesses along on its mission of environmental activism and advocacy.
That includes Dr. Bronner’s and the Rodale Institute, which joined together to establish the Regenerative Organic Certification to set standards for regenerative organic agriculture.
This organic alliance is built around the pillars of not only protecting the farmers who are growing the crops and providing them with more economic benefit, but also has principles of protecting and supporting animal welfare, according to Ottenweller.
Putting those principles into practice, Patagonia uses organic cotton in its products and other businesses have followed suit.
The company also uses its venture capital investing arm, Tin Shed Ventures, to identify innovations that will help it move toward a closed-loop supply chain, or what Patagonia refers to as “regenerative capitalism.”
This effort resulted in Patagonia’s first acquisition in more than 20 years.
Last week, Patagonia Provisions, the company’s food and beverage division, announced it acquired Moonshot, a snack company specializing in crackers.
“Moonshot is really focused on the regenerative movement and thinking about how to decrease the carbon footprint,” Ottenweller said. “They’re really doing incredible work, sourcing from the farmer in the field where the wheat is grown.”
Ottenweller highlighted the acquisition as “a great example of all of these different parts of our company, how we’re sort of like an ecosystem, always working together across the web of partners externally trying to find the best, most exciting, most energizing innovation that we think will move both the apparel and the food industry along.”
The Next 50
Next month, the company plans to announce the Home Planet Fund, a nonprofit organization that will raise money for climate change initiatives, with a focus on Indigenous communities.
More details are forthcoming, but the company is thinking of it as another piece of its activism toolkit, Ottenweller said.
“When it comes to the speed and the rate that the environmental crisis and ecological degradation is happening, we recognize that while we have this brilliant 1% program that supplies funding for really important grassroots nonprofits to do work at a community level, and that is still super important to us, but being able to deploy large amounts of funding to nature-focused climate solutions is also super important,” she added.
Ottenweller cited the Willow Project, a huge oil-drilling project on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope that the Biden Administration announced it was approving on Monday, as an example of what the Home Planet Fund would address.
“Really fighting in this war over land and places and making sure that we’re able to have some more skin in the game for protecting these places,” she said.
Ultimately, Ottenweller said that while the company is celebrating the five-decade mark, the 50th anniversary for Patagonia is not just a pat on the back.
“With the climate ecological crisis in the position that it’s in, and the vast amount of work that we need to do in the apparel industry and just with companies and governments at large, we wanted our message to be more a call to action for our mission statement. We’re in business to save our home planet,” she said.
“We want people to believe and know that there’s hope. And that solutions can come from the joining up of industry, governments and everyday people.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.