Patagonia & The Worn Wear College Tour

There are few businesses that I admire more than Patagonia. I’ve been a fan since I purchased my first Synchilla jacket at their Boston store in 1991. In the early 2000’s, Debbie was on the Montrail Patagonia Ultrarunning team, and we have maintained a 15 year affiliation with the company. We have friends who work for the company, and we have provided feedback on clothing and gear. For years (back in my days of shooting slides) I sent images of “Patagoniacs” to them with the hope that one would be published in a catalog. We consider ourselves to be customers and ambassadors for the brand.

My admiration isn’t just for the gear, but for the business. Like Horst Engineering, they are privately held, family owned, driven by their mission, and focused on their core values. Even though they are much larger (around $700 million in annual revenue), they have maintained the long view. I have heard others scoff at the cost of Patagonia’s products. There is no question that they command a premium, but when you learn more about them, you realize that there is value in that price. Like L.L. Bean, another business I admire, they guarantee their products for life, and have invested profits wisely, leading to decades of amazing growth. They focus on durabilty and their products have a long life. Last year, I brought back 15 years and 20 pounds of worn out Patagonia Capilene (much of it smelly!) under garments/base layers. They have partners who recycle the polyester, and turn it back into new fabrics.

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Yesterday afternoon, I visited Yale University in New Haven to check out Patagonia’s 2017 Worn Wear College Tour. It was part of Yale Sustainability’s full-day extravaganza focused on extending the life of products to keep items out of the waste stream. I hadn’t heard about this event until Debbie sent a link that came from our friend Richard Treat, a Bolton neighbor, and one of Debbie’s fellow Bolton Land Trust board members.

The Patagonia Worn Wear repair team brought their truck, Delia. It was reported that 1,000 people showed up and the Patagonia team helped attendees make more than 500 “do it yourself” repairs on clothing (not just Patagonia’s). Patagonia has made an effort to repurpose and resell used gear as an alternative to the cost (and impact) of buying new. eBay has a thriving Patagonia pre-owned category. The company previously made a splash when in a full-page New York Times advertisement on Black Friday, they told people to “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

I wasn’t able to make the Repair, Reuse, Repurpose Fair, but I did make it to the Yale School of Management (Evans Hall) in time for an evening panel discussion featuring Rick Ridgeway Patagonia’s Vice President of Environmental Initiatives, Adam Werbach from Yerdle, a business that helps leading brands develop re-use programs; and Scott Briscoe from the National Outdoor Leadership School. There were about 30 attendees, so we had a nice intimate discussion.
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Ridgeway is someone I’ve read a lot about, so it was nice to see him in person. Years ago, I read his books: Seven Summits (1985), The Shadow of Kilimanjaro (1997), Below Another Sky (2002), and The Big Open (2006). He is a legendary mountaineer and a fantastic adventure writer. He is also pretty good behind a camera. In 1978, with John Roskelley, he summited K2, the world’s second highest mountain (8,611 m/28,251 ft). K2 is one of the most dangerous and most difficult mountains to climb. He did the climb without supplemental oxygen, which is an amazing accomplishment. Their teammates, Jim Wickwire and Louis Reichardt reached the summit the day before. This four-man expedition was the first conquest of K2 by an American team. He was also part of the original Seven Summits expedition with Dick Bass and Frank Wells. Both were successful businessmen, and Dick founded Snowbird.
Another great adventure that Ridgeway was part of was in 2002 when he teamed up with three other famous explorers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and the late Galen Rowell, to cross the Chang Tang in Tibet. I read about that adventure in National Geographic Magazine and heard about it on NPR. The Connecticut Forest & Park Association hosted Chin (also at Yale), back in 2010, and I had the chance to meet him. Many of them have been featured in films that were part of past Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tours. Last month, we saw the 2017 tour in Hartford.  They have all done great work on behalf of Mother Earth. I have several of Rowell’s books. He, his wife, Barbara, and two friends perished in a small plane crash in 2002, shortly after the Chang Tang expedition. He was a great photographer. I could go on and on about these adventurers and their exploits.
When you have a love of the outdoors like I do, it’s all connected! Mountains, writing, and photography are three of my passions, but so is responsible business, which brings us back to Patagonia and their mission:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Patagonia’s founder is Yvon Chouinard. I’ve read his books, Let My People Go Surfing, and The Responsible Company. The recently ordered the latter for Horst Engineering’s Green Team and it is soon to become required reading. Chouinard is also the co-founder of 1% For The Planet, of which we are also a member. Like Patagonia, our family and our businesses supports many not-for-profit environmental organizations.
Manufacturing creates waste and our goal is to minimize that waste. That is why Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, his Responsible Company co-author, suggest that no business is “sustainable,” but every business can strive to be more “responsible.” Last night, Ridgeway walked us through an overview of Patagonia’s history, highlighting many of their business practices. He explained how their mantra has shifted from:
  • Reduce
  • Repair
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

to:

  • Repair

  • Resell

  • Recycle

  • Reduce

He spoke about “downcycling,” Life Cycle Assesments (LCA), and “dematerialization.” The fashion industry generates a tremendous amount of waste. He spoke about the 2011 advertisement that caused caught the attention of many. I read a good New Yorker story  about Patagonia’s post-Great Recession approach to consumerism. Last year, I listened to the Rich Roll Podcast with Andrew Morgan on the True Cost of Fast Fashion, and it was enlightening. We all have to pay attention where our products, including clothing, comes from.

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I didn’t know much about Patagonia’s new venture, Patagonia Provisions, but Ridgeway explained that the next frontier was food. Food waste is the greatest kind of waste and much bigger than clothing, hence Patagonia’s desire to make an impact. I could relay so many of Patagonia’s accomplishments. Ridgeway covered many, including their 1% contributions, their organic cotton strategy, their work with Wal-Mart on sustainable sourcing, their climate change efforts, and their direct land conservation. The company is often viewed as radical. They make no bones about their advocacy. It is part of their mission. Much has been written about the company, so you can do your own research.

After Ridgeway spoke, we heard from Briscoe, who was part of Expedition Denali, which was organized by the National Outdoor Leadership School. Debbie is a NOLS graduate. She did an outdoor educator course in 2001, the year we were married. In the summer of 2013 brought together a group of climbers who made history as the first team of African-Americans to scale America’s highest mountain. It turns out that Briscoe and I have some connections. Back in January, one of the key organizers at NOLS, Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin (now up The Avarna Group), and her partner Ava Holliday, did Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion training for the Appalachian Mountain Club Board of Directors at our retreat. Some of the statistics that they shared about the lack of diversity in the outdoor community, were startling. Briscoe spoke of breaking down barriers and the need to get more minorities outdoors and enjoying nature. He mentioned that three out of NOLS 600 instructors are black. I found that to be telling. AMC, NOLS, and many conservation oriented .org’s have struggled to recruit a more diverse membership, but we keep trying. The movie, An American Ascent, showcases the Denali expedition, and will be screened by Yale Outdoors on Friday.

Look for the Worn Wear Tour as it continues. Later this week, they will be at UMASS in Amherst, Massachusetts, and then they are headed to MIT in Cambridge.

Patagonia is an inspiration for me ,and when I make decisions on behalf of Horst Engineering, and I think about how they would respond. Aerospace manufacturing and precision machining are different from clothing manufacturing, but as a locally owned family business, we already have a leg up on the competition. Debbie and I often speak with our young children about making good consumer choices and they are already learning how to “vote with their wallets.” Long term thinking is already part of our company culture. Our investments in energy efficiency and our ongoing success contributes to the success of many other organizations, and we strive to do our business the right way, with the least impact possible. We have much work left to do.

1 Response to “Patagonia & The Worn Wear College Tour”


  1. 1 Marc Scrivener 8 March 2017 at 7:11 am

    I recall reading that Patagonia is registered as a “benefit corporation.” This requires them to be a good corporate citizen.


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