Patagonia’s Grounded Vision


No Cliff Hangers

by Kim Goodhart

Why Patagonia’s Grounded Vision Has Won Them Long-Term Love – Not Recognition

When Patagonia – globally renowned outdoor equipment and clothing outfitter – sought to realign its brand values and culture amidst America’s 1990 recession, no meetings were called, no graphics are drawn, no market comparisons or competitor insights were brought forward. Instead, its founder, Yvon Chouinard, and its 12 key managers took a road trip to Argentina. Here they walked, talked, sat and mused about what was actually important to them as a company – why they did what they did –– not a word was said about profit.

Fast forward almost two decades, and staying true to their brand ethos and vision hasn’t just won the company awards and a loyal customer base, it’s reaffirmed to the world that marketing success isn’t driven by just moving goods, it’s about moving minds and hearts. And, that purpose lead engagement – eliciting people’s emotions through active storytelling – benefits all – employees, customers and the environment – long-term.  

Stay Out-of-the-box

You don’t have to dig deep to uncover Patagonia’s litany of achievements and initiatives, dating all the way from the 70s to the present day – including the most recent UN 2019 Champions of the Earth Award for entrepreneurial vision.

Despite the fact that each of their measures has carried its own toolset across the decades, what hasn’t changed is their bind to the same purpose and goal set. In fact, every product, solution, plight – even recently updating their mission statement,

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

– has been engaged to drive active good for their customers, their people and the world. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring that 70% of its products are made from recycled materials. By 2025, their goal is to use 100% renewable or recycled materials. Donating 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of natural environments – awarding more than of $89m to causes – formally establishing a non-profit corporation ‘1% for the Planet’ in 2002.
  • Through an environmental internship program, it offers employees – from all parts of the company – the opportunity to leave their roles and work for an environmental group of their choice for up to two months.
  • Establishing Worn Wear an online/instore initiative aimed at extending the life of Patagonia gear and reducing landfill.

As Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, said at the National Retail Federation 2019 conference,

We don’t just seek now to do less harm, we need to do more good.

However, ‘sustainable’ expectations are something they’ve never leveraged themselves off – in fact as Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard attests to, the idea of a fully sustainable business or product is impossible:

There is no such thing as sustainability. The best we can do is cause the least amount of harm.

Instead, the word ‘responsible’ is what the company have kept at the fore, as Chouinard argues in his article – ‘Patagonia In The Making: My Founder’s Story’

Responsibility starts with companies treating nature not as a resource to be exploited but as a unique, life-giving entity on which we all – not least business – depend.

Simultaneously, this ‘responsibility’ has kept their teams aligned and working together – giving voice to matters that matter, and strengthening connections between internal marketers and those employees in the external fields, ensuring all beat to the tune of the Patagonia drum:

  • Consider the environmental impact of everything we do.
  • Engage and support our communities.
  • Contribute a portion of our sales to philanthropy.

Igniting the Internal and External

Patagonia’s success Manship pivots from every facet of its organisation. As a company they continue to prove that in order to be truly successful you don’t just have to have a clear mission and brand values, you have to align everyone in your organisation around your vision and purpose statements. And you have to create tangibility – maintain a ‘one out-of-the-box’ stance.

So, to ensure their internal and external teams operate well and truly in sync. Their business model isn’t geared towards a typified rewards system for their employees – whereby people come to work, do their job well, they get rewarded. Instead, they inhabit the space beyond the conventional ideologies of old.

Because they’ve always operated on their own system, they know exactly what they’re there to do as a business, and can, therefore, make a meaningful change because they don’t have to hide behind glossy branding and dodge bullets from unhappy employees. Patagonia continues to be led by chief Visionary Officers – people who will keep everyone excited and inspired by where they’re heading. It has nothing to do with creating an environment where people are excited to come to work for self-reward and satisfaction. Employees and customers remain loyal because they believe in Patagonia and its tangible vision for what it looks and feels like to be a part of something purposeful.

Purpose forward

Like their purposeful vision, Patagonia continues to embrace means and measures to ensure their speak has greater outreach to help drive those visions. Which is why emotive video storytelling is fast becoming a Patagonia’s preferred platform – their film Artifishal, a documentary focused on the financial, environmental, and cultural costs of fish hatcheries and farms, and the fight for wild salmon is just one recent film example.

As Yvon Chouinard says in his founder’s article,

People don’t read any more and they make decisions based on emotions, so I think film is the best way to elicit people’s emotions.

It’s through moving imagery and genuine, emotive storytelling that we change behaviour. If the modern business world is to really transform then we all need to connect our people with a central purpose beyond self-reward and motivate our customers and followers through video storytelling.

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