“I know it sounds crazy,” says Yvon Chouinard, “but every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money”.
That correlation sounds like our favourite kind of crazy!
Over forty years ago, early eco-warrior, Patagonia founder and one of the world’s most conscious entrepreneurs, Yvon Chouinard, recognised that a financially successful company afforded him the opportunity to be a leader in workplace excellence and environmental activism. Today his brand is recognised as one of the pioneering ‘profit for purpose’ companies. It is also leading the way for apparel companies to become more sustainable.
With a passion and conviction to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis, Patagonia has become a global leader in its use of organic cotton. The company also innovates sustainable fabrics, from incorporating eucalyptus into the cotton to give yoga pants their stretch, to using polyester from recycled bottles to make fleece jackets.
“Business – and human – success in the next 100 years will have to come from working with nature rather than using it up,” says Yvon in a company statement.
But making the tough decision in 1995 to use only organic cotton was an expensive one. And yet, Patagonia is only seeing an increase in its overall profitability.
The company are famous for their Black Friday ads in the New York Times that say ‘don’t buy our products’ – an ad most marketers and business owners would never dream of, let alone promote.
It’s a perplexing paradox: a clothing company that promotes a sustainable lifestyle, and yet relies on people buying their products to stay in business. The Black Friday ads might have been unconventional, yet sales have only increased. Customers are recognising that Patagonia shares their personal values and support them for it. Their lengthy list of environmental commitments, including the brand’s fully disclosed supply chain (called ‘The Footprint Chronicles’) is shared here.
74-year-old Yvon is still heavily involved in the day to day running of his company. Although he doesn’t own a computer (he’d prefer to send someone a letter), the founder spends his time coming up with new innovations or partnering with environmental campaigners. He maintains that the success of the business comes from their transparency and commitment to their values.
“At Patagonia, making a profit is not the goal… [as] the Zen master would say, profits happen ‘when you do everything else right’.”
Like Yvon Chouinard, these retail entrepreneurs also put their principles ahead of profit and have reaped the rewards:
Erin Feniger, Founder and Director of The Rialto Jean Project
The Rialto Jean Project is a creative fashion brand redesigning the way we wear denim, whilst at the same time supporting innovative art therapy programs in hospitals through their charitable platform ‘Denim Doing Good’.
Soraya Darabi, Founder, Zady
Zady was created by Soraya Darabi with the intention of not becoming another fast-fashion, trend chasing line of clothing and homewears. But instead, creating a new standard in fashion by only using high quality raw material, reducing carbon emissions and ethical labour.
Tal Dehtiar, Founder, Oliberté
Oliberté is a brand of high quality footwear manufactured in Ethiopia. They believe in creating fair and safe jobs, along with leading the charge for workers’ rights and with their mentality of ‘Trade. Not Aid’ are making a huge difference whilst creating a great product.