Patagonia: The Activist Company
Though Patagonia has recently become more hip, they have always been known for their amazing outdoor gear. Though not necessarily the most fashion forward brand, Patagonia creates incredibly durable clothing and the environmental vision of the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is one that all clothing companies should look to. From the beginning, Patagonia has been a leader in corporate environmental activism, starting with a campaign to de-urbanize the Yosemite Valley in 1988 and paying employees to volunteer for environmental causes; a mission they continue presently. Today, Patagonia’s environmental initiatives start with the materials they use, sourcing only organic cotton and primarily recycled polyester. Not only do they ethically and sustainably source the materials for their new items, in 2015 they started Patagonia Worn Wear, encouraging people to trade in their old items for new or repaired ones. The integration of used clothing into a new clothing company is unprecedented—they are encouraging you to buy a re-used item in lieu of a new one in their store, sacrificing their profits for the good of the environment and your wallet.
Worn Wear is more than just a site for reused clothing, it is also a place to share stories about how Patagonia clothing has been worn and loved. The Worn Wear stories don’t just tell stories of clothing, but also of the adventures of people that wore them. For one woman it is the hand-me-down kids jacket that was passed down from her sister.
Another man summarizes his relationship to worn wear perfectly, “I realized that even if someone is done with a particular piece of clothing, the stories that are attached to it are still there in every tear and nick in the cloth. By keeping clothes going, you keep writing that story. My brother passed away a few years ago and it really made the idea of repairing clothes a lot more valuable to me. Patches cut from his old jeans go into mine and I wear a jacket of his every once in awhile. It’s a little connection I have to him.”
Just as this man’s clothes become a symbol of his brother, reused clothes can become a symbol of where we have been. Perhaps it represents a previous version of ourselves, the location we bought the item, or a great adventure where the jacket kept us warm. Or maybe it is a colorfully printed jacket that we always feel most ‘ourselves’ in.
Patagonia not only considers their environmental impacts and encourages us to be conscious consumers by their example as a conscious company; they also encourage us to connect to our clothing. Seeing our clothing as more than just something to put on in the morning can change our relationship to fast fashion. We should see our clothing as the story of the people who created it, the materials that it’s made of, and the stories that we ourselves have in attached to it.