Many years ago – at least a quarter of a century – I fell in love with an outdoor clothing company named Patagonia and I must have over 100 pieces of the stuff by now. From everything to baggy swim shorts to down-filled jackets, I bet I wear several Patagonia products every week, all year long, because I think it is the best value in America. It is always in style and it never wears out!
Seriously, I have some jackets that are easily 25 or 30 years old but now my favorite company has just sent me a message: “Don’t buy any more from us!” That’s a bit startling, especially from a world-respected company whose fan base is among the most loyal return customers on the planet. And when you figure Patagonia earns over $400 million a year in revenues, the puzzling plea becomes all that more bizarre.
So here’s the rub: On a recent flyer that said in big black type, “Don’t Buy This Jacket!” a royal blue soft-shell rain jacket comes with the message, “To make this jacket required 135 liters of water – enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60 percent recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. The jacket left behind, on its trip to Reno, two-thirds of its weight in waste.”
What Patagonia wants all of us to do – really – is to not buy anything unless we really need it. They want us to consume much less of everything, even their superior clothing. If we do, it will greatly lessen the impact on the environment by reducing greenhouse gasses, pollution and natural resources. At first that sounds like suicide, because Patagonia products are so well made and held to the highest standard soon the clothing will outlast the demand.
But the truth is that, from the very beginning, Patagonia has made the earth on which we live its stage. Sure, the California-based company is freakish about the environment and every catalog, produced on recycled paper, includes essays on saving a desert or a tree frog, conserving water, and embracing our habitat. Call them eco-freaks but the better word is “sincere.” The whole company feels a deep responsibility to our greater good. That’s a heckuva advertising campaign in itself.
I have to admit I buy what I call “good ‘Gonia” because time and time again it has proven to be the best there is. I learned long ago if you buy high quality, it actually reduces quantity. The Maine outfitter, L.L. Bean, is consistently the most admired company in the country because they stand behind what they sell 100 percent. Patagonia and other high-end stores do the same thing.
It goes against my grain to send merchandise back; if something goes bad it’s because a hot ash from my cigar or a happy dog’s toenail was the culprit. But several years ago the plastic zipper on a relatively-new Patagonia jacket kept separating and I instead wrote a nice letter, praising the company but wanting them to be aware of a defective zipper. Almost immediately I got a new jacket, along with a note they had already been alerted a supplier had grievously sent inferior materials.
The only other beef I have with Patagonia is that it seems they want me to look like a rock or a tree. They have all these grey and brown clothes, many far too drab for a sport, and I wrote them a letter about that too, explaining when you aren’t very good at what you do then a good defense is to look a little more flashy. They saw my picture and admitted there wasn’t much they could do.
I’m not quite the tree-hugger or the “earth activist” that maybe I should be, but I believe Patagonia is very sincere and quite forthright in taking the stance it does. I happen to believe I can do more for the common good in some other arenas while leaving environment efforts to people far more knowledgeable, passionate and determined. I also figure when I buy a piece of “Good ‘Gonia,” they’ll use part of the sale to further benefit an antelope habitat somewhere or help fund a Tibetan trailhead.
More and more I respect the idea that if we would buy only what we need – rather than trying to impress the girl in Apartment 3-G or become part of the next fad – this world of ours really would become a better place. The easiest way to do that is buy Patagonia products because I’ll swear they will last forever.