rethink sustainability

The CLIC® Chronicles: Patagonia, an outdoor brand with a mission. An exclusive interview here

The CLIC® Chronicles: Patagonia, an outdoor brand with a mission. An exclusive interview here

Interview with Vanessa Rueber, Head of Environment and Marketing Coordinator for Switzerland, Patagonia.


Tell us about Patagonia...

We are an outdoor clothing brand and we aim to sell gear for what we call the "silent sports" – climbing, surfing, skiing and many others. We're in business to save our home planet. Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.

Patagonia has grown exponentially since launching in 1973, quadrupling revenue in the last decade. In Switzerland we have grown – doubling the business over the past five years

We last talked over two years ago. What's happened since then?

Patagonia has grown exponentially since launching in 1973, quadrupling revenue in the last decade. In Switzerland we have grown – doubling the business over the past five years.

Of course, like every brand, we faced delays due to Covid-19. But we're working with our supply chains to make sure we can deliver most of our products and keep our customers happy.

We have introduced a limit on the amount of products produced. We have moved from demand-based production to producing in a way that actually influences demand. The biggest challenge is explaining to our partners that they can no longer buy what they like. This is how we can continue to be a responsible company, by controlling and choosing what we want to produce and how.


What are Patagonia's goals to reach net zero and what concrete actions are you taking?

The clothing industry is not sustainable, but we're making an effort to reduce our footprint each season. We aim to be carbon neutral across our entire business, including our supply chain, by 2025. Our supply chain accounts for 97% of our carbon emissions so we've made some important decisions and are planning more. For example, in 2020, we reached our goal of switching our stores, regional and global offices and headquarters to renewable energy. By 2025, we also plan to have all of our products made with renewable or recycled materials.

We are committed to doing better, moving towards 100% renewable and recycled raw materials by 2025 and increasing the number of Fairtrade-certified sewn products across the entire line.

We are committed to doing better, moving towards 100% renewable and recycled raw materials by 2025 and increasing the number of Fair Trade certified sewn products across the entire line

Patagonia's engagement is quite holistic and goes further than rethinking your footprint as a fashion brand. You're also climate activists. Tell us more.

We have a mission statement – we are in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have – our voice, our business and our community – to do something about the climate crisis.

We advocate for policies and invest in projects that will slowly and potentially solve the climate crisis. These include developing more wind and solar energy, promoting responsible farming practices like regenerative organic agriculture and regenerative grazing. We're working to protect and restore land and water, as forests and oceans are important carbon sinks.

Read also: The CLICTM Chronicles: Pioneering circularity – the rise of the sharing economy for everyday items


What should companies do to build a more circular, lean, inclusive and clean (CLICTM) fashion industry?

The apparel industry is responsible for around 10% of global emissions and it is time it faced up to the hard truth that actions need to reflect the urgency of the crisis in which we find ourselves. Now is the time for revolution, not evolution.

The founder and owner of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, has five underpinnings to his philosophy – lead an examined life; clean up your own act; do your penance; support civil democracy and influence other companies. Others can interpret those however they wish, but they must not ponder too long. We don't have the luxury of time.

The apparel industry is responsible for around 10% of global emissions and it is time it faced up to the hard truth that actions need to reflect the urgency of the crisis in which we find ourselves

Read also: The CLICTM Chronicles: 10 ways to build a circular economy and the companies leading the way

You say that "This season, 68% of our fabrics are made with recycled materials." Can you explain further?

This 68% figure is soon to be out of date, with our Fall 22 season seeing recycled materials being used across over 99% of our product range. We won't stop at 100% recycled, it is still not good enough. Recycled plastic is still plastic and a by-product of the fossil fuel industry, which is a major contributor to the current crisis in which we find ourselves. We will continue to develop fabrics and processes beyond recycling, expanding into other preferred materials that are both restorative and regenerative for our planet, without compromising on performance.


What kind of materials are you working with and how is this innovative?

Patagonia first started using recycled polyester in 1994 in our iconic Synchilla fleece. The reality was that it wasn't very good. It was coarse, it wasn't durable enough, and we were only able to make the material in a faded lime green colour due to it being made from post-consumer recycled plastic. Today that same post-consumer recycled plastic has been integrated across our product line, from your underwear to the waterproof shell sheltering you against the worst weather. We're transparent with the materials we use and how our items are made – you can find this information on our website on each product page.

Yvon Chouinard said: "The best effort we can make towards causing no unnecessary harm is to make the best quality products, ones that are durable, functional, beautiful and simple."

We work to source materials and use processes that are less harmful to the earth without compromising product quality. This means that what we make, and how we make it, must cause the least harm to the environment. We evaluate raw materials, invest in innovative technologies and rigorously police our waste.

The best effort we can make towards causing no unnecessary harm is to make the best quality products, ones that are durable, functional, beautiful and simple

How can the fashion industry combine design and aesthetics with quality, responsibility and sustainability?

At Patagonia we're guided by Yvon's product design philosophy of simplicity. Each design is considered for its multi-functionality, durability, suitability for the end user as well as repairability and ease of care. We also consider whether its production will cause unnecessary harm to both people and the planet. If we can't confidently answer each of these considerations, then the product goes back to the drawing board.

We underpin this design philosophy with inbuilt transparency and accountability. If you want to know which factory your item was made in and how the workers were paid, we'll tell you. If you damage your Patagonia item, or are dissatisfied for any reason, we'll both take your feedback onboard and repair your item irrespective of how it happened. We don't send product to landfill – if you're done with your Patagonia product, we'll take it back from you and retain it until a time we can integrate the materials into our future materials.

What constitutes a beautiful and aesthetic product is completely subjective. That said, it's impossible to argue that an impractically complex product created merely to meet demand for a price point, with no consideration of its impact on people or planet, could be regarded as beautiful.

Each design is considered for its multi-functionality, durability, suitability for the end user as well as repairability and ease of care

Patagonia was one of the first B Corps in 2011. What else do you do to have a positive impact on people and the planet?

We partner with third party accreditations like the Fairtrade Association to ensure that our factory workers receive a fair wage for their labour. We support the reformation of our agricultural systems by integrating materials like hemp, and regenerative organic cotton into our products. We'll continue to look beyond our own industry for solutions to the problems we create – whether that be collaborating with Samsung to address micro plastics or innovating with Infinited Fibre to ensure our natural fibre products are truly circular.

We use a portion of our sales to support grassroots groups, for example in Switzerland with Klimaschutz who aim to phase-out fossil fuels and create a social, democratic and ecological energy supply, and Landwirthschaft mit Zukunft who aims to transform our food and agricultural system. These activists are working to make a real difference. As a result, Patagonia products and programs are at the forefront of environmentalism.

Read also: The CLICTM Chronicles: SEP – a luxe, ethical fashion brand taking refugee women’s embroidery skills to Fashion Week


Tell us about your Worn Wear programme.

Patagonia's Worn Wear® hub is a trade-in and resell platform. We want to extend the lifespan of our clothes by reselling second-hand product and repairing to get more use out of stuff we already own. The customer trading in items receives a fee for its traded in product and Patagonia sells it on, with a margin, after quality curation on our platform.

It is an important solution to the global apparel industry's massive CO2 and waste problem. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, apparel is on track to account for a quarter of the world's annual carbon budget by 2050. Apparel is also a big contributor to solid waste. In 2017 alone, 11.2 million tons of textiles were sent to landfill.

We want to extend the lifespan of our clothes by reselling second-hand product and repairing to get more use out of stuff we already own

Are you thinking of producing new kinds of clothes? Or expanding your product range?

We are looking more at narrowing our offering. The goal would be to do much more in our Worn Wear programme, in recycling and reuse and even renting. We would be more interested in branching out the Provisions part of the company, where we sell food and drinks that have been sustainably and responsibly sourced.


Are you optimistic for the future?

There are so many companies that are now looking for ways to do good, that the wind will change and people are beginning to understand what is good and bad when it comes to consumption. A good sale is buying from a responsible company. Patagonia is a responsible company and can drive more impact by being an organisation that inspires others to copy us and do the same.


What do you do in your daily life to be sustainable?

I have solar panels on my roof. I take the train to go to places that are far away. I eat local foods, recycle, reuse and repair always and I vote. I work with different NGOs to help launch their campaigns or initiatives. I educate my children about the climate crisis and topics such as biodiversity, wild spaces, energy and consumption. Finally, I try to do my best to make people aware that we have one planet and we need to do good to continue to enjoy where we live.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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