Brand Love: Patagonia

Photo by  Amelia Wachtin

Patagonia may just be the emperor of large-scale ethical clothing. What began as a backyard steel-piton company, has now blossomed into a massive line of outdoor apparel and gear that is currently setting new precedents for corporate social and environmental responsibility. In this post we will present to you the various aspects of Patagonia that truly make it a cut above other international clothing companies, interspersed with pictures of our friends who also have a penchant for the high quality, responsibly made items Patagonia has to offer.


The Beginning...

Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard began forging increasingly lighter, stronger and simpler climbing tools to meet the demands of him and his climbing peers in the 1960s. By 1970 he and his aeronautical engineer business partner had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the US. After witnessing the damage the pitons were doing to once pristine climbing sites, Chouinard decided to phase out pitons and switched to aluminum chokes. This was the company's first radical move in favour of the environment and it quickly brought them much success.  The apparel side of the business was launched when Chouinard began wearing colourful yet practical rugby shirts while climbing. This initiated a small fashion craze in the US and it was realized that clothing could support the only marginally profitable hardware business they had going. This side of the company was called "Patagonia", to stir up visions of off-the-map beauty found in that region of the world.  In the 1980s, Patagonia went against the grain again and "drenched" their apparel in colour while other products stuck to tan or forest green, creating the uniquely colored and patterned outdoor gear we so love to this day. 


The innate connection between the environment and Patagonia's existence has fuelled a passion for preservation and restoration of the beautiful spaces that the company's employees and customers so enjoy. This has brought Patagonia to the forefront of innovation, involvement and standard-setting for corporate environmental responsibility. From strict monitoring of the environmental impacts of their factories worldwide to creating clothing that is guaranteed to stand the test of time and even encouraging their customer to buy LESS, the company is the apple of our environmental eye. According to Patagonia, "a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them". This also translates into a love of people, with Patagonia having a robust involvement in corporate social responsibility of it's factories in all tiers of production worldwide.

Photo by Jordan 

Photo by Jordan 

Patagonia will be the first to admit they are not perfect. The reality is that no industry is immune to worker exploitation as rapid globalization has led to massive, broken supply chains. The standard for most companies is to only look to their first tier (cut, sew, assembly) suppliers for exploitative conditions. Patagonia goes far beyond this standard, investigating as far as possible into their supply chain to improve treatment of it's workers in multiple tiers (mills, fabric production). A well-written, honest and detailed article about exploitative labor in the apparel industry says this about Patagonia:

For its part, Patagonia is actively trying to improve conditions throughout its supply chain. Over the past four years, it’s beefed up its social responsibility office and enlisted Verité to help it with additional audits. It’s increased its investment in corporate social-responsibility efforts by about nine fold over the past five years, and has been working on initiatives internally as well as trying to broaden awareness and cooperation about problems across the industry.... when I spoke with experts on the issue of forced labor, Patagonia’s name continually came up as one of the few brands that seeks to take the high road by choice rather than necessity

Read the full article HERE.

What we think...

My New Neighbour sees Patagonia's humble honesty, transparency, commitment and diligence with corporate social responsibility as ground breaking and necessary. A great example is their corporate responsibility FAQ section, boldly addressing questions most companies will not or can not. Though it is true no international apparel company can completely avoid labour exploitation at this time, we commend Patagonia for setting a new pace in the industry to change this.

The apparel itself is thoughtfully constructed and their well-researched fabrics offer the customer excellent performance whether the piece is being worn everyday or to ice pick your way up a Rocky Mountain. We appreciate that many of their basic outdoor wear comes in multiple types of fabric to suit the preference and price range of the customer.  In store, you can count on Patagonia staff to be friendly and well informed about their products. Online, you can find detailed information about the fabric technology, factories involved with production and inspiration for the creation of each piece of clothing.

Photo by  Amelia Wachtin
Photo by  Amelia Wachtin
Photo by  Amelia Wachtin

Corporate social and environmental responsibility details..

Patagonia's website has an extensive amount of resources to educate their customer about their social and environmental responsibility. Examples include: 

Worn Wear: This program includes a blog, film and touring bio diesel repair truck to support Patagonia's belief that one of the most responsible things they can do is to make products that last for decades. It includes helping customers learn how to care for and recycle their products while also employing 45 technicians for clothing repair.

The Footprint Chronicles:  An examination of Patagonia's life and habits as a company to provide transparency about their supply chain. It includes information on their impact on the planet, what it means to be Fair Trade Certified, fabric sourcing and their involvement with defining a living wage for their workers across the planet.

Environmental Grants and Support: At least 1% of profits go to community groups working to create positive progress for the planet in their backyards for things like forest restoration, protecting critical land and marine habitat and supporting local and sustainable agriculture.

Corporate Responsibility:  A detailed look into what Patagonia is doing to ensure their apparel is created in fair, legal and humane conditions. This includes the company's creation of a Supplier Workplace Code of Conduct based on International Labor Organization standards,  pre-screening factories before placing orders with them, a dedicated field staff that visits factories regularly, working towards a higher fair or living wage in cost negotiations with factories, and exercising due diligence in preventing human trafficking and migrant labour issues in supply chains by developing a comprehensive standards for migrant workers. They have published their Code of ConductCode of Conduct Benchmarks and Migrant Worker Employment Standards on their website. 

Patagonia is a founding member of the "Fair Labor Association", an objective body that randomly audits a sampling of a supply chain to asses the quality of their factory-monitoring program, results are posted for public access on FLA website.

Their Chemical and Environmental Impacts Program is an environmental auditing program to audit the environmental impact of their global supply chain. The fabrics Patagonia uses are carefully investigated and active research is continually being done to improve the environmental impact and durability of their products. Their mission statement makes this clear:

We know that our business activity – from lighting stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. So we work steadily to reduce those harms. We use recycled polyester in many of our clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.
Photo by  Amelia Wachtin
Photo by  Amelia Wachtin

To "lead an examined life"...

My New Neighbour's vision of encouraging intentionality in the way we and our peers shop matches up well with Patagonia's motto to "lead an examined life". The company exhibits a high standard of transparency and value for people and the environment that we think all apparel companies should strive for. By buying from companies like Patagonia, you are telling retailers worldwide that you, their ever-so-precious money-spending consumer, value knowing that your clothes were made respectfully and thoughtfully.