Sustainable outerwear pioneer



How sustainable is Patagonia?



1% For The Planet

Bluesign System Partner

Fair Labor Association

Patagonia grew from a specialty climbing gear brand that founder Yvon Chouinard sold from the back of his truck to a global icon of corporate sustainability. Patagonia has always been a brand by and for people who spend their time in the outdoors. It’s not just in the name and logo, it’s in every part of the company. A lot of what we actually know about sustainable fashion is derived from the books that Patagonia wrote about the subject. That goes for the entire fashion industry in general. Patagonia has become a trailblazer in corporate responsibility. With a philosophy of always making the best product it possibly can, the company has years of experience in taking full responsibility for every element in its supply chain. The brand is also founded and run by climbers, surfers, and outdoor enthusiasts in general, which has led to a company that actively protects the outdoors. Patagonia founded the 1% for the Planet organization, which is a channel for companies to sign up and donate 1% of earnings directly to grassroots environmental organizations of their choice. The outdoor brand has also made several headlines in the media by donating 100% of sales on Black Friday and doing a big advertisement in the New York Times with the words: “Don't buy this jacket”. The company even sued the president of the United States. Actions like these have earned Patagonia the nickname ‘the activist company’ and make it very difficult to not love the brand. While Patagonia has been pioneering for years, it’s a very big brand and there are improvements yet to be made. Its mission statement, which it does not take lightly, is to make the best product it possibly can, while causing no unnecessary harm. This is where things get interesting. It should be a standard for all companies, but Patagonia specifically states that all material choices would have to be made with both quality and sustainability in mind. Since it’s an outdoor company a lot of their products have to be waterproof, and synthetic materials simply do that the best. All cotton Patagonia uses is organic and 72% of its line is made from recycled materials and all cotton is organic. But the company still uses a percentage of virgin polyester and nylon, which are materials derived from oil. Even though a percentage of this is recycled, a part of this is virgin material as well. These are strong waterproof materials, but environmentally very unfriendly. Without proper context, this is somewhat strange to see at a company like Patagonia, who has been critically looking at its supply chain for years now. The answer is that the brand has not yet found a material with the same performance as the virgin materials and if switching to a different material means delivering a product of lesser quality, Patagonia simply won’t do it. The company is doing great on almost everything else. It’ll repair your product when it wears out, almost all animal-derived and other materials are certified, and it has partnered up with several organizations to improve the social conditions in its supply chain. On top of that, its factories receive frequent audits from independent third-party organizations like the Fair Labor Association, who publishes the reports. There’s some transparency missing though. Patagonia has published most of the emissions generated in its supply chain, but excludes what is generated in the factories where it actually produces. The company states that it has taken measures on water usage and wastewater management, and has targets in place for those areas. It uses a percentage of renewable energy for the facilities it owns, but doesn’t disclose absolute data on its supply chain. In order to achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral in 2025, these elements of its supply chain have to be fully mapped and published. Since the company has a ton of projects and measures to reduce its carbon footprint, this mission does not fail credibility. Patagonia is definitely one of the more sustainable outerwear brands out there and we fully praise the company for its activism and everything it has done for the industry. But it’s not alone anymore in terms of sustainability and if it wants to remain on top, it should increase transparency concerning its entire operations and step away from oil derived materials. That being said, in our current day and age, it’s a must to produce in a sustainable way, but Patagonia has been doing it since its origins and it’s the living proof that business can be used as a force for good.

Publication date: March 22nd 2020
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