Patagonia

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

The desire for well made products has grown as we realise that our current lifestyle, built on consumerism, is not sustainable and is having a detrimental impact on our environment.  Modern businesses promote the concept of a product being designed to be durable as if this is a new approach and you will often find yourself paying a premium for a ‘lifetime’ product. Ironically, in the past it would have been considered absurd to develop a product with any intention other than to make it last as long as possible.

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It is surprising how few companies actually run their business with the intent to create these ‘lifetime’ products. Patagonia is a great example, creating high quality products using sustainable materials and manufacturing techniques. The founder, Yvon Chouinard, set up the company in 1974 with the mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia was considered to embrace the green movement well before it was considered of great importance to most other businesses. The company has 4 core values: Quality, Integrity, Environmentalism and Not Bound by Convention. I think the fact they have managed to stick to these core values over the years is responsible for Patagonia’s great success.

Patagonia are involved in a number of environmental initiatives. One of their biggest initiatives is supporting the organisation called 1% for the Planet where they donate 1% of their revenue to environmental causes. Patagonia really push for product repair and recycling. Their Common Threads initiative was inspired by their determination to close the loop on the lifecycle of their products and embrace the cradle to cradle ideology. They offer to repair any clothing at a fair price and actively encourage their customers to sell or donate their clothing if it is no longer needed. If the product is worn beyond repair then Patagonia will recycle the clothing for you.

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It is often considered that making more environmentally conscious business decisions can have a negative affect on the financial success of a company. Patagonia have proven that to be an incorrect assumption. The clothing brand is thriving while maintaining its integrity and often breaking convention from a marketing point of view. Patagonia’s anti-consumerism, anti-growth and anti-materialistic views have resulted in some unusual business moves in the past. For example, their “Don’t buy this jacket” advertisement in 2011 consisted of an image of their best selling, R2 fleece sweater and the environmental cost of making it. This was a very risky move, they were asking consumers to think twice before buying their products. One would assume this would have a negative impact on sales but in contrary the ad had the opposite effect and sales increased dramatically. Some say this is because the ad attracted an environmentally conscious target market who were happy to support this anti-consumerism approach.

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The success of the ad in 2011 leads us on to the debate about growth and how the expansion of Patagonia as a business may contradict their fundamental beliefs. Although the individual environmental impact of each product is minimised, the overall footprint of the company is increasing as they grow. This is a serious dilemma that Patagonia faces. However it can be argued that although there are some negative environmental implications associated with the expansion of a business, a new wider audience can be reached to pass on their environmental message and inspire consumers to think about what they are buying.

If you are environmentally conscious and have been enticed by Patagonia’s core values for their brand, you may find yourself on their website with the intention of purchasing one of these lifetime products. However it quickly becomes apparent that you need to have access to a large amount of money. These quality products don’t come cheap, a standard coat comes at around £200, with some of the more luxurious coats reaching £750. This raises the issue that your income can prevent you from making environmentally conscious choices when purchasing a product.

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Patagonia follows some great core values and as a result has blossomed into an ethical, environmentally conscious business where many people would choose to shop to access high quality, eco-friendly products that could last generations. However, their wholesome intentions are potentially being tainted by their reliance on making a profit. This could put them at risk of losing sight of the initial beliefs that the business was built on. It is disappointing that many common people are unable to join this sustainable approach to consumerism simply because they cannot afford to do so.

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