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Name: Patagonia

The Place: Headquartered in Ventura, USA but shops/online all over.

The Story: Featuring in BrandKeys influential ‘Innovative Tech Brands’ survey 2019 is good for anyone. But especially good when you are a retailer of nearly 50 years standing with a rock-climbing octogenarian founder who is still fairly active in the company.

Indeed: But outdoor apparel company Patagonia is testament to how a retailer can keep consistently doing things differently in its sector if they choose a mission and stick to it.

So… stick to one thing to be innovative. Sounds counter intuitive: Not at all. They have chosen one overarching theme to be associated with and under that mission umbrella pretty much anything on the retail front goes.

Surprise me: How about a whole campaign based on not buying anything?

Retail: but not as we know it

OK, I am officially surprised: Back in 2011 Patagonia had already decided that this whole Black Friday thing was a BAD IDEA. So it launched a now infamous marketing slogan ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’, which encouraged consumers to effectively buy smarter and perhaps invest not in a new Patagonia jacket but a pre-owned one. Its 2012 revenues were up by 30%.

So this is confusing. Asking people to buy less grew its revenue? Umm, yes. Maybe it’s because as the BrandKeys survey notes it is the brand most associated with a single cause and consumers trust it to save them money and save the planet too.

That’s a neat trick: Well obviously this only works if the consumer does genuinely believe that Patagonia’s clothing and production is done to the highest standards in the first place. Its status at the provider of the corporate Power Vest helps along with that though.

I’m sorry – Power Vest? Oh yes, all the best people in Silicon Valley have been wearing them for years. It’s a kind of sartorial virtue signalling. I have a branded Patagonia vest therefore I am.

The Power Vest in action

Am what? A player. Although even that kind of easy eco-in might be on the way out as Patagonia now says that those companies that are either Certified B Corporations or members of the 1% For The Planet movement will move to the front of the corporate branded merchandise queue. Mission-driven enterprises = good. Non-mission-driven enterprises = not good.

You know before long I can see a time when instead of retailers trying to flog their stuff to anyone and everyone, the customer will virtually have to prove they are worthy recipients of the goods: Listen up – the truth is people love being segmented, everything is so tribal now, so identity politics. Most of the time in retail it’s done by cost. You are either in the tribe that can afford it or you aren’t.

Mainly I’m in the latter: But this is a different club – a club based not on income but on your concern for the planet. Obviously Patagonia is not asking customers to prove their eco-credentials, but the company has said that in terms of employing people a preference will be given to someone who is clearly an advocate for the planet.

That’s actually quite revolutionary: So I’m thinking that choosing your preferred customers could be just a mission statement away…and revenue will shoot up as people fight to be in the club. Like in 2011.

Just out of interest what is the current Patagonia mission statement? We are in business to save our home planet. And that’s the kind of thing really only a privately-owned, independent company can say and do. As is tithing.

Like a tithe-barn? Yes. Back in 1986 the company said it would commit one tenth of its profits to environmental activism. That’s now changed to an Earth Tax of 1% of sales which is bigger. And that was really only the beginning of its involvement in direct action which culminated in the launch of Action Works in 2018 that focuses on investing that money in three key areas: agriculture/politics and protected lands and water.

Politics? Good lord yes. It is not shy about sticking its colours to the mast here. Last year in protest at a Trump corporate tax cut it gave away the money it had got in the tax cut – amounting to $10 million. And in the recent mid-term elections it endorsed two Democrat candidates in Nevada and Montana who were for protecting public lands. They won. Oh and they have sued President Trump over his reduction of two national parks with the slogan ‘The President Stole Your Land’.

Blimey, they don’t mind do they? And the company also managed to persuade 400 other companies to give their employees the day off to vote in 2018. Every Patagonia shop had a poster reading ‘When the polls open we close’. It’s full-on.

Anyhoo, back to the old humdrum world of actually shifting stuff in shops: Ah yes. I’d almost forgotten in the all the excitement. Well, you will be unsurprised to hear that the focus on how least to harm the planet continues in-store. Launched in 2017 Wornwear is the second-hand selling platform for Patagonia developed with resale site specialists Yerdle. So if you have hung up your walking boots for good then trade in your stuff in exchange for credit in-store or online.

Patagonia’s repair truck

What if you have actually used your outdoor climbing gear for the great outdoors rather than swanning around Silicon Valley? Then you avail yourself of the repair advice that they provide, and it is extensive. Added to that the company also undertakes a Worn Wear Tour, 2019’s iteration started in Innsbruck, where a kind of rolling show rocks into town across the ski destinations of Europe to help with pesky zips, patches and buttons. A pop-up Worn Wear with repair workshops popped up in Colorado also.

And what if it is beyond repair? They have sorted that out too. Patagonia has a complete range called ReCrafted, which according to one commentator is ‘making garment afterlife more exciting’.

And I think we all want an exciting afterlife for our clothes don’t we? It takes worn out items and turns them into unique new products at a site in Los Angeles. A completely different aesthetic in this range, it’s all patchwork bags, jackets and vests.

It’s not cheap but it is good for the planet

But what about its pre-life? Oh, the company is busy replacing things like virgin cashmere with recycled cashmere and it is making big strides on its cotton (and most of fashion’s emissions come from the production of the raw materials). In India it is now working with hundreds of cotton farmers to make sure they control pests with traps, replace chemicals at all stages, and so on.

Well, I just can’t think what else it can do: Food and drink.

Why on earth would it do that? It’s already done it. Patagonia Provisions is a thing. The company wants to rethink the food chain as it feels the current one is broken. Same focus on end product and production that does not harm the planet that categorises the clothing lines.

Ooh. What’s in it? Beers, grains, seeds, soups, fish. And this is what I’m trying to point out. With the support of the overarching message Patagonia can sell pretty much whatever it wants.

The new anti-retail: You read it here first.

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