Fall marks Patagonia’s 40th anniversary, a milestone for which we thank you, our customers. We owe you everything: Your business has been the sole source of investment in our work to innovate new clothing and gear for climbing, surfing, snow sports, fly fishing and everyday life. It allows us to provide small but useful grants to hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations working hard to save or restore a revered patch of land or stretch of water, or to reconnect habitat and seasonal migration paths for wildlife.
Patagonia, still wholly owned by the Chouinard family (now as a benefit corporation), spilled out in the wake of the ’60s when many young people took to the mountains for solace or exhilaration and experienced the wild, both in the soul and in the world, that is felt more intimately and intently the farther you get from the roadhead. Our founder was a climber and a surfer, as were our original employees. The first lesson of the mountains or the ocean is that Nature is greater and more powerful than we are (and never loses its beauty and strength). Yet we are a part of Nature: Indifferent to our performance, she still gives us each a role to play.
Ours has been to make high-quality, innovative clothes for the sports we love. In our first years, we made rugby shirts tough enough to withstand the rigors of climbing, thick wool sweaters knit tight to keep out the wind, heavy double-seated canvas shorts that could endure years of use. We introduced, during the mid-’70s, the concept of layering for the mountains: underwear to wick sweat away from the skin, fleece insulation to trap heat, and a shell to keep out the wind and rain. We’ve been tinkering, refining, making things new ever since. Recently we’ve branched out—into organic food that travels well, and into Patagonia Books™ to bring into print titles that advance our values.
Patagonia is the last of the outdoor industry’s widely known, privately held companies to go unsold to outside investors. But this does not reflect a conservative posture. Our ambition is still larger than those of most companies public or private: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” We think our work to reduce the environmental harm we do, or that we allow to be done in our name throughout the supply chain, makes us sharper, better informed, more responsive as business people. And this leads to higher quality and more innovation.
That is key to any business’ success and longterm survival. If you look at the membership of the Henokiens, an international organization of family-owned businesses that have survived for 200 years, you find three characteristics or habits they have in common: quality, innovation and simplicity. Patagonia has only been around for 40 years, but if we are ever able to join that venerable group of companies, it will be because we have not lost those habits.
Our 40th anniversary also marks the introduction of a new, two-year environmental campaign called The Responsible Economy. At 40, we need to reflect on what life will be like 40 years from now. When Patagonia started, the planet supported 4 billion people; we’re at 7 billion now and are expected to reach 9 billion by 2053. Americans still consume more and waste more than anyone else. Human beings in toto are now using up the resources of one and a half planets; we live on our one and only. Yet we all have to make a living. How will that go 40 years from now? What will we do in our daily lives if we are to have a planet that can give us our daily bread – but that still feels anything like home? These are the issues we’ll explore with you and leading thinkers in our catalogs and on our website over the next couple of years.
The owners, managers and employees of Patagonia