Patagonia takes a stand «This is a time where you can’t step away from tough questions. It’s a time for businesses to raise their voice and have an impact»
Patagonia – Save our home planet
When Patagonia launched in 1973, the company’s EMEA Sales Director, Gianluca Pandolfo, explains that the brand now known for its activism as much as its outdoor clothing originally didn’t have a mission statement, as such. Over the years, Patagonia’s agenda has been articulated to reflect the fact that they are «a brand that is trying to do its best to minimize impact», before arriving at the all-encompassing ‘save our home planet’, which is what they stand by today. As a brand, Patagonia have never been afraid to speak up and «recognize that there is a difference between Patagonia’s low impact ambition and its footprint, which present a contradiction that we cannot ignore». Where most brands are still shying away from being transparent about their sustainable and ethical processes, Patagonia’s mission statement means that the brand can instead hold itself accountable: «we challenge ourselves to find solutions that are going to minimize our impact». By not ignoring the fact that they are part of the problem, Patagonia have been able to carve themselves a niche where producing products that last as long as possible has led to reducing their customers’ consumption allowing the brand to become a platform for climate activism long before sustainability became the issue it is today. Patagonia do not identify with being a sustainable company. They call themselves a «responsible company», which means that their scope stretches beyond environmental causes.
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«Our desire is that if you put three different jackets from three different brands on a table, someone would pick Patagonia’s because they know what we stand for», says Pandolfo, who goes on to illustrate the initiatives that Patagonia have launched. He starts with the brand’s first mission statement, developed in 1991. Part of this was to ‘cause no unnecessary harm’, with Patagonia’s Founder, Yvon Chouinard, realizing earlier than most «the harm human beings were causing to the planet ». Believing that minimizing the impact was not enough, Patagonia moved to using exclusively one hundred percent organic cotton in 1996, and then became a certified B Corp in 2001. Patagonia were also donating one percent of their sales back to the environment, and in 2002 Chouinard co-created a non-profit corporation, 1% for the Planet, to form an alliance of businesses that understood the necessity of protecting the natural environment and wanted to do the same as Patagonia. Alliance and the concept of community are themes that come through across Patagonia’s public-facing actions, with Pandolfo also speaking about Patagonia’s first Yulex wetsuit in 2016 as being one of his highlights since working at the company. Yulex is a bio rubber that is made out of natural materials, rather than the petroleum-based neoprene traditionally used to make wetsuits. Patagonia could have chosen to guard this technology and keep it to themselves for economic gain, but instead they shared the technology with the rest of the industry, so everyone could benefit from it.
The impact of our businesses
Pandolfo also mentions the global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how this has impacted the industry as a whole. When talking about the company’s recent decision to prioritize shipping product by sea rather than air freight, he reveals that «we were discussing what was best for the planet, not what was best for the business»; as shipping product by sea is slower than by air – meaning delays for stockists and consumers alike – but it does minimize emissions. Pandolfo states that «each of us, as individuals, have a responsibility to fight the battles that we believe in» and how Patagonia can be a «resource to fight those battles». One example of this was in 2016 – after the American election where Trump was voted President – when the company were considering how they would approach this event over the course of Thanksgiving and Black Friday. An intern suggested that they mark that year by donating one hundred percent of their Black Friday sales to non-profits working at the forefront of protecting air, water, and soil for future generations. This idea went to Chouinard who approved it the day after, and Patagonia’s customers showed their eagerness to get involved in this drive, with the company exceeding expectations and reaching ten million dollars in global retail and online Black Friday sales that year. This goes to show the willingly blurred line between Patagonia’s company values and its employees’ personal values. For Pandolfo, «this is a time where you can’t step away from tough questions. It’s a time for businesses to raise their voice and have an impact».
Patagonia and DDL Zan
«We feel like we have an obligation to find our place in the intersection between environmental and social justice, where we have the credibility and the voice to do that», says Pandolfo. When choosing what areas to support and be vocal about, the company considers three questions: is the cause that we want to support in line with our values? Can we create positive and systemic change if we support it? Are our employees willing to support it and speak about it? This is the situation Pandolfo found himself following on from a conversation he had about the DDL Zan with two other Italian colleagues. DDL Zan is a bill against homotransphobia which aims to be inclusive and protect all Italian citizens. It is currently stuck in Italian parliament, and Pandolfo felt that it was «potentially a tipping point, and maybe we could help support it». He explained this to Patagonia’s leadership team, and within two days they agreed to back it: making Patagonia one of the first companies to come out with a statement in support of DDL Zan the following week. This kind of encouragement is not lost on Pandolfo, who adds that «this was an initiative started by three employees of the company, using Patagonia as a platform. It’s unique that they have allowed me, as a Sales director, to speak on behalf of the company about these matters. We need to speak up, because we need to stand against any act of discrimination against any people».
Greenwashing in the fashion industry
For Patagonia, the link between social justice and climate justice is inherent. This is evidenced by Pandolfo’s thoughts on greenwashing in the fashion industry: «there is an impact from an environmental and social point of view about this and this is visible». Pandolfo refers to companies guilty of this kind of disinformation as ‘walking the walk, but not talking the talk’, something which Patagonia try hard to avoid. This is demonstrated by the fact that, after kicking off their fair-trade program a few years ago, more than ninety percent of Patagonia’s collections are now certified as fair trade. Patagonia also started working with NetPlus® in 2020 – a material made from one hundred percent recycled discarded fishing nets collected in fishing communities in South America – and now ten percent of Patagonia’s collection is made using this. «It’s true that the environmental impact in a lot of situations is going to have the biggest impact in the poorest countries», concedes Pandolfo, but he believes that customers in general «are starting to be well informed. They are going to drive the change of consumption and will force companies to ‘talk the talk’ and stop greenwashing».
Patagonia’s Worn Wear program
In their bid to become «more vocal about social justice», Patagonia are going to start by integrating their Worn Wear program deeper into their business. «We want to use it as a platform to educate and to share our ideas on consumption with our communities. We need to buy less ». In addition to this, Patagonia also wants to «track the impact of the production of our products» so that they can build out a company-wide Environmental Profit and Loss report. This will look at reducing the environmental impact of supply chains, production processes and transformation of raw materials, and will influence the way they produce their product moving forward. Patagonia will be continuing to further both environmental and social projects as well, including supporting non-profit organizations wanting to save the rivers of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as their work on We The Power: a vision for community-owned renewable energy. It is true that the company grows every time it amplifies its activist mission, so it must be noted that there is an irony in the fact that the more Patagonia continue to reject consumerism, the more it sells. Pandolfo muses that this is because, «everything we do resonates with our mission statement» and suggests that Patagonia’s customers are ambassadors: «not of the brand, but ambassadors of the planet». If this kind of growth means that individuals, or consumers, are making more responsible choices, then Patagonia is the vehicle in which they are all coming together to make a bigger impact.
Patagonia and Gianluca Pandolfo
Founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia is a clothing company specialized in outdoor clothing. Throughout its history the company has been known to take a stand in environmental and social issues. This is mirrored in the company’s mission which is to ‘save our home planet’.
Gianluca Pandolfo has been the EMEA Sales Director at Patagonia since 2015. An Italian living in Amsterdam, Pandolfo joined Patagonia from The North Face; partly out of curiosity to find out more about the brand known for its activism as much as its clothing, and partly because of his passion for sports and the outdoors. He recently led Patagonia’s public support of DDL Zan: a bill against homotransphobia aimed at protecting all Italian citizens.