Politics

How Yvon Chouinard Created the Outdoor Brand Giant

The company was built out of Chouinard’s love for the outdoors. He was a passionate mountain climber at the ripe age of 14.

Yvon Chouinard climbs near Ophir wall during the three-day Mountainfilm festival in Telluride.

Yvon Chouinard climbs near Ophir wall during the three-day Mountainfilm festival in Telluride.


Denver Post via Getty Images



Source: Patagonia

Chouinard grew interested in climbing while a member of the California Falconry Club, when a leader taught the group how to scale cliffs to find falcon nests leading to a “lifelong love or rock climbing,” according to the company.

John Salathé and Yvon Chouinard at Camp 4, Yosemite Valley, California, October 1964

Rock climber John Salathé with Yvon Chouinard at Camp 4, Yosemite Valley, California, October 1964.


Tom Frost



Source: Patagonia

As Chouinard expanded his climbing experiences, he grew his network of friends in groups like the Sierra Club and learned to scale iconic peaks like Tahquitz and Yosemite.

Photo of rock climbers (L to R): Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard on the summit of El Capitan on 30 October 1964, following the ten day ascent of the North America Wall, Yosemite National Park, California.

Photo of rock climbers (L to R): Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard on the summit of El Capitan on 30 October 1964, following the ten day ascent of the North America Wall, Yosemite National Park, California.


Tom Front



Source: Patagonia

Chouinard began teaching himself how to be a blacksmith in 1957, starting with making pitons, which are spikes mounted into rock to help support a climber. He quickly developed a following, and began selling them from his parents’ backyard in Burbank, California, to friends and family.

A photo of a RURP (Realized Ultimate Reality Piton), invented by rock climbers Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard

A photo of a RURP (Realized Ultimate Reality Piton), invented by rock climbers Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard.


Tom Frost



Source: Patagonia

Inspired by Chouinard’s use of a rugby shirt he picked up in Scotland — which worked well on climbs because the collar stopped slings from digging into his neck — the company decided to take a stab at making its own apparel.

Patagonia store owner Yvon Chouinard poses with his automobile November 21, 1993 in California

Patagonia store owner Yvon Chouinard poses with his automobile November 21, 1993 in California


Jean-Marc Giboux /Liaison Agency via Getty Images



Source: Patagonia

Over the next few years, Patagonia introduced rugby shirts, raincoats, gloves, mittens, and hats to its catalogue.

patagonia hats



AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews


Source: Patagonia

In 1973, the company opened its first store, Great Pacific Iron Works in Ventura, California. Today it serves as the company headquarters.

Patagonia headquarters, the site of the first store, Great Pacific Iron Works

Patagonia headquarters, the site of the first store, Great Pacific Iron Works


Wikimedia Commons



Throughout the next decade, Patagonia worked on developing new forms of apparel — including specialty outerwear and long underwear — designed to keep climbers warm and dry.

Patagonia jacket



Robert Alexander/Getty Images


The company experimented with different types of fabrics and materials. It also began using its signature bright, bold colors for its clothing.

An array of fabrics along the wall in the lab on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.

An array of fabrics along the wall in the lab on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.


David Walter Banks/For The Washington Post via Getty Images



By the late 80s and early 90s, the company established a culture known for its community spirit and love of outdoor sports.

Free bikes are available for employee use on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.

Free bikes are available for employee use on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.


David Walter Banks/For The Washington Post via Getty Images



Its headquarters had no private offices, and employees were allowed to wear whatever they pleased.

Solar panels cover the employee parking lot on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.

Solar panels cover the employee parking lot on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California on Friday, September 19, 2014.

David Walter Banks/For The Washington Post via Getty Images


Employees were encouraged to take surf breaks. Chouinard’s laid-back approach to management is detailed in his memoir, “Let My People Go Surfing.”

Laura Tripp, testing & standards engineer, tests fabric strength in the lab on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California.

Laura Tripp, testing & standards engineer, tests fabric strength in the lab on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California on Friday, September 19, 2014.


David Walter Banks/For The Washington Post via Getty Images



Source: The Washington Post

It was also during this period that the company made an increased effort to support environmental efforts, and in 1988 Patagonia kicked off its first major campaign to protect Yosemite Valley.

buyers pass by a sign in the Patagonia exhibit at the Outdoor Retailer & Snow Show in the Colorado Convention Center

In this Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, photograph, buyers pass by a sign in the Patagonia exhibit at the Outdoor Retailer & Snow Show in the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Major players in the outdoor industry jumped into the political fight over national monuments two years ago and now have added climate change and sustainable manufacturing to their portfolio.


AP Photo/David Zalubowski



Similar efforts continued over the years, and the company began making regular donations to grassroots environmental organizations. It later debuted its 1% for the Planet effort, in which 1% of all sales are directed to these groups.

patagonia soho



Bethany Biron/Business Insider


Patagonia continued to make waves on the sustainability front, including with major campaigns like the 2011 Black Friday “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ads, which urged customers to reduce their consumption.

patagonia ad



Patagonia


Source: Insider

Despite its focus on activism, Patagonia hasn’t been impervious to controversy. In 2015, an expose from The Atlantic reported that internal audits showed “multiple instances of human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation in Patagonia’s supply chain.”

Demand Fair Trade sticker seen in the Patagonia store window in Dublin

Demand Fair Trade sticker seen in the Patagonia store window in Dublin city center during Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown. On Saturday, 13 March 2021, in Dublin, Ireland.


Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images



Source: The Atlantic

Over the past decade, the company continued to expand its reach, including launching its own line of food, designed for hiking and camping called Patagonia Provisions.

patagonia food



Bethany Biron/Business Insider


Source: The New York Times

Today, Patagonia has more than 70 stores globally and operates two distribution centers.

Tourists enter the Patagonia outdoor clothing shop in Vail, Colorado

Tourists enter the Patagonia outdoor clothing shop in Vail, Colorado.


Robert Alexander/Getty Images



Source: Patagonia

In April 2017, Patagonia announced the launch of Worn Wear, a program in which customers can return old gear and apparel, and receive credit toward a new item.

patagonia DIY



Bethany Biron/Business Insider


Source: The Washington Post

The company then mends the used items and resells them on its Worn Wear website.

patagonia worn wear



Bethany Biron/Business Insider


In 2020, Patagonia took its activism to new heights when it sued former President Donald Trump over plans to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah. The lawsuit came in tandem with an awareness campaign, “The President Stole Your Land.”

patagonia trump national monuments bear ears



Patagonia.com


Source: Insider

In an unprecedented move, Chouinard announced this week he is giving away Patagonia, with all profits going into a new trust established to fight climate change.

yvon chouinard tom brokaw




Brad Barket/GettyImages



“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’ Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth,” he wrote in a statement on Wednesday

The company, which is valued at around $3 billion, will now be owned by the Patagonia Purpose Trust and Holdfast Collective.

A Patagonia store signage is seen on Greene Street on September 14, 2022 in New York City.

A Patagonia store signage is seen on Greene Street on September 14, 2022 in New York City.


Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images



Source: Insider

Often described as a “reluctant billionaire,” Chouinard still embodies the same adventurous and unfettered spirit of his youth. According to The New York Times, the 83-year-old who was born in Maine “wears raggedy old clothes, drives a beat-up Subaru” and “does not own a computer or a cellphone.”

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard


Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images



Source: The New York Times



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