This story was first published on November 25, 2011. It has been updated with notes for 2022.
Why run an ad in The New York Times on Black Friday telling people, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”?
It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.
The most challenging, and important, element of the Common Threads Initiative is this: to lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less. Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality. Customers need to think twice before they buy. [Editor’s note: The Common Threads Initiative has evolved and expanded into Our Footprint.]
Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back. Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.
We’re placing the ad in the Times because it’s the most important national newspaper and considered the “paper of record.” We’re running the ad on Black Friday, which launches the retail holiday season. We should be the only retailer in the country asking people to buy less on Black Friday.
But we’re in business to make and sell products. Everyone’s paycheck relies on that. Moreover, we are a growing business, opening new stores and mailing more catalogs. What do we tell customers who accuse us of hypocrisy?
It’s part of our purpose to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. [Editor’s note: In 2018, we changed the company’s purpose to: We’re in business to save our home planet.]
It would be hypocritical for us to work for environmental change without encouraging customers to think before they buy. To reduce environmental damage, we all have to reduce consumption as well as make products in more environmentally sensitive, less harmful ways. It’s not hypocrisy for us to address the need to reduce consumption. On the other hand, it’s folly to assume that a healthy economy can be based on buying and selling more and more things people don’t need—and it’s time for people who believe that’s folly to say so.
Nevertheless, Patagonia is a growing business—and we want to be in business a good long time. The test of our sincerity (or our hypocrisy) will be if everything we sell is useful, multifunctional where possible, long lasting, beautiful but not in thrall to fashion. We’re not yet entirely there. Not every product meets all these criteria. Our Common Threads Initiative will serve as a framework to advance us toward these goals. [Editor’s note: Patagonia now has a used clothing program, Worn Wear, to keep more of what we make in play longer and out of landfills.]
Why the provocative headline if we’re only asking people to buy less and buy more thoughtfully?
To call attention to the issue in a strong, clear way.
We used the line “Don’t Buy This Shirt” several years ago in a catalog essay, to strong response. It is our hope that this headline will prompt as many people as possible to read the full ad, then take the Common Threads Initiative pledge.