Patagonia – Fair Trade, Fair Labour and Eco

This month, I was tipped off by a friend to check out Patagonia, the outdoor clothing designer. You may have heard of the brand and their gear, but you might not have known how committed they are to sustainability on several fronts. They truly are a company that does everything they can to help preserve the environment. In researching and writing this article, I found myself impressed and inspired.

Founder Yvon Chouinard is a rock climber, environmentalist and outdoor industry businessman. Early in his life, Chouinard became an avid climber in the mountains of his native Northern California. He was one of the leading climbers of the ‘Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing’, teaching himself blacksmithing to create and sell his own climbing equipment. He then started Patagonia in 1970 to sell climbing clothing. As Patagonia met with financial success, Chouinard committed the company to being an outstanding place to work, and to be an important resource for environmental activism.

Patagonia’s inspiring mission statement is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

In 1984, at the urging of Malinda Chouinard, Yvon’s wife, Patagonia was among the first companies in the US to provide on-site child-care, as well as an on-site cafeteria offering “healthy, mostly vegetarian food”. Two years later, Yvon Chouinard committed the company to literally tithing (donating 10% of profits) toward environmental activism. To date they have donated over $70 million.

Because of Chouinard’s love of the outdoors and witnessing the degradation of the environment, he committed the company to using the most sustainable materials possible, including wool and recycled polyester. When an environmental audit revealed that the cotton Patagonia was using was the worst environmental offender of all its textiles, Chouinard made the commitment to use all organic cotton. He also supported the work of the Sustainable Cotton Project, which ran farm tours for fashion industry professionals to meet directly with farmers growing organic and IPM cotton in California. He contributed to the US NOSB standards to include organic fiber as well as food.

Patagonia’s standards of doing sustainable business also include the following policies:

  • Engaging third party organizations to visit factories to investigate social/environmental concerns
  • Using no child labou
  • Publishing the list of factories producing their goods
  • Making quality products that are repairable

Another great thing Patagonia does is its fair trade policy for workers. They pay a premium for every Fair Trade Certified item that carries the Patagonia label. That extra money goes directly to the workers at the factory that produced the item, and they decide how to spend it.

If more businesses operated like Patagonia, it would be a pretty amazing world!

Renia headshot
Renia Pruchnicki
is the owner of a company called Truth where she designs a line of vegan fashion accessories made in Canada. Truth was created in 2001.