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California in the early 1950s: Yvon Chouinard, the son of French-Canadian immigrants, discovers his passion for climbing at the age of 14 on the coastal cliffs of Malibu. The teenager quickly acquired the technique to tackle larger projects: Big Walls in Yosemite. Mostly he was drawn to unconquered, smooth granite walls, which at the time were undertakings that lasted for days - mainly in technical climbing.
Hitting hooks and working your way up them with the help of rope ladders - this style is no longer so popular today, but at the time it was considered real pioneering work. Chouinard soon realised that the soft steel hooks from Europe were no match for the hard granite. Climbing was only possible in the long run with hard steel hooks, which he finally forged himself and sold out of his boot. For the next few years, the small company allowed Chouinard a free lifestyle as a climber: during the season, production stood still and time was spent on the rock. In winter, he forged hooks.
From garage business to mountain sports giant
The high demand made Yvon Chouinard expand: Soon, other hard goods such as crampons complemented his range and some friends started working for him. By 1970, Chouinard Equipment had become the largest manufacturer of mountaineering equipment in the USA. As climbing grew in popularity, its first effects on the environment became apparent. Chouinard noticed that repeated hammering in and out of the hooks on the much-travelled routes was causing the rock to spall. Climbing left its mark.
A tour of the Nose on El Capitan made this particularly clear. Just a few summers earlier, Chouinard and his then business partner Tom Frost had experienced the route completely untouched. The new ascent led to the decision to stop producing hooks. But first they had to find alternatives. Chouinard found them in the form of clamping wedges, hexentrics and friends, which are now indispensable in climbing. At that time, the innovations often had to be explained before they were accepted as "safe enough". It took some time before the advantages of the mobile belay devices became accepted.
At the same time, the first items of clothing were added to Chouinard's range: rugby shirts from England or canvas trousers with a double bottom - both robust and optimal for hard use on the rock. During a legendary road trip to Patagonia in 1968 - along the coast of California down to Fitz Roy, where they successfully completed a first ascent - Chouinard and his buddies had already realised that different clothing was also needed for expeditions. Now, in addition to experience, the trip also provided inspiration for the name of the clothing company: Patagonia was born. In order not to be perceived exclusively as "climbing gear" and not to dilute the existing image of Chouinard Equipment, the clothing company was to stand on its own two feet. When Chouinard Equipment was ultimately transferred to friends and employees at the end of the 1980s, Patagonia remained in the hands of the company founder. Today, the well-known diamond logo still bears witness to the legendary sister company - albeit under a different name: Black Diamond!
Patagonia's innovative outdoor clothing
At Patagonia, there was a lot of tinkering and experimenting with materials right from the start: Fleece fabrics, previously used for toilet lid covers and high-pile fibre fur jumpers by deep-sea fishermen, found a new purpose as mountain sports jackets. Finally, in 1980, the first underwear made of polypropylene, a fibre that does not absorb water, followed. This meant that wet and freezing cotton shirts on the skin were history, even if both materials still offered room for improvement. Patagonia gladly accepted this challenge.
Through the search for suitable fleece fabrics, Yvon Chouinard came into contact with Polartec and Malden Mills. In close cooperation with the textile manufacturer, fabrics were repeatedly developed over the following decades that set standards for the ever-increasing demands of mountain sports. The quality was constantly improved.
In 1993, a new cornerstone was added: polyester fleece made from recycled plastic bottles. At first, the pre-recycled products could score neither in terms of quality nor price, which pushed down demand for the now legendary Snap-T jumpers. Patagonia was up to its neck in water, but Chouinard stuck to his idea and the self-imposed environmental aspects - as he had done with the clamping wedges. Persistence and innovation improved the products and brought the numbers back up.
Totally Organic: Patagonia dares and wins
Patagonia's conversion to organic cotton was just as consistent and daring: during the tour of the plantations, Chouinard had learned how harmful the sprays are that are used in large quantities for cotton cultivation.
In the mid-1990s, Patagonia switched completely to organic cotton within 18 months. Procurement problems - not enough organic cotton was traded on the stock exchanges - were only a small part of a big challenge. After all, the entire processing chain had to be convinced to clean the machines to produce the relatively small amount of organic clothing. Likewise, the entire manufacturing process had to be certified.
For the 2014/15 autumn/winter season, Patagonia announced the conversion of the entire down division to a 100 per cent transparent supply chain. This is intended to enable a fully traceable production path that guarantees animal welfare without force-feeding and live plucking.
True to the roots: e-fibres and social responsibility
Fleece made from recycled polyester and organic cotton are still the prime examples among the so-called e-fibres used at Patagonia. Recycled polyester helps to reduce waste and conserve the resource crude oil - and that with around three quarters of saved energy and three quarters of saved CO2 emissions. Organic cotton also plays a major role; after all, its exclusive use is anchored in the company's bylaws. Of course, Patagonia also uses other e-fibres: Tencel, hemp, leather tanned as gently as possible, recycled nylon and so on. It is the declared goal to have all products Bluesign certified.
All Patagonia products have one thing in common, whether they are Gore jackets or cotton shirts: they are recyclable. Nevertheless, Patagonia promotes passing on the products accordingly until they have really reached the end of their product life. In this way, consumer behaviour already contributes to environmental protection. Patagonia is and remains one of the pioneers of innovation and functionality in the product sector. Many of the products we take for granted today are Patagonia products: Starting with Capilene underwear, through down jumpers, the already mentioned fleece to Puffball insulation and much more. Patagonia has been running its own laboratories for decades to test the fabrics first according to the claims and works closely with the sponsored athletes, the Ambassadors, in the product development. Patagonia places more value on active cooperation than on bought-in big names. After all, in the end the products should meet the requirements in practice.
Sustainability all around
As the largest private company in the outdoor industry, Patagonia is also distinguished by its corporate structure. Neither affiliated to any group nor to a public limited company, it is possible to continue living the values that have always been important. Thus, everyone in the team is an enthusiastic sportsman and nature lover. If possible, people go surfing during their lunch break (book tip on this "Let the employees go surfing" by Yvon Chouinard, Redline Verlag), time management should be as free as possible and there has long been a company kindergarten. For years, Patagonia has been a regular in the upper echelons of the best employer rankings. The concept means sustainability in all areas: ecology, economy and social aspects, which must also be implemented in the production countries. Fair wages and good working conditions, which are also monitored locally, as well as participation in the Fair Labor Association, for example, are crucial cornerstones.
Patagonia also tackles the issue of nature conservation in a very concrete way - be it in terms of active support or financially. Patagonia founded the 1% for the planet association, whose members donate one percent of their sales to environmental organisations and projects. At Patagonia alone, this now amounts to more than 45 million dollars, and the organisation currently has almost 1,800 members. This shows that the little climber who (actually involuntarily) became a successful businessman has remained true to his maxim all these years, but also wants to inspire others - because he alone will not make the world greener. Patagonia's company philosophy is: "Make the best possible product, pollute the environment as little as possible and inspire others to find solutions to the environmental crisis together".
We're in business to save our home planet
All life on earth is threatened with extinction. Patagonia makes it its goal to use all its resources to do something about it: "Our company, our investments, our voice and our imagination."
Patagonia grew out of a small company that manufactured accessories for climbers. Alpinism remains the core of a global company that still produces clothing for climbing, but also for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, mountain biking and trail running. All these sports are silent. None of them requires an engine; none of them brings you roaring applause. Each sport rewards you in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between man and nature. As the climate crisis worsens, Patagonia fears that these nature-filled moments will eventually no longer be experienced. That is why Patagonia has decided to fight to preserve them. Patagonia donates at least one percent of sales to help hundreds of environmental organisations around the world stay vigilant and protect the irreplaceable. At the same time, Patagonia understands the risk of losing one tree to save the entire forest - a planet worth living on. As the loss of biodiversity, cultivable soils, coral reefs and freshwater accelerates, Patagonia is doing its best to address the causes, not just the symptoms, of global warming. "Staying true to our core values over more than forty years of doing business has helped us create a company we love to run and are proud to work for. To stay in business as a company for at least another forty years, we need to defend the place we can call home."
Patagonia Action Works
Patagonia Action Works connects people across Europe, Germany and the US with environmental groups to support environmental activism. Through the platform, users can volunteer, sign petitions, get information about local events and donate money to good causes near them. The environmental organisations on the platform are from all over Europe, including NGOs based in Germany such as Meine Landwirtschaft, Riverwatch, Rehab Republic and Euronatur. The launch of the platform comes at a time of unprecedented threats to our environment and increasing demand from the German public, politicians and businesses for immediate action to tackle the climate crisis. The recent climate movements in Europe as well as in Germany demonstrate the increasing urgency to protect our planet. Patagonia Action Works aims to contribute by connecting individuals with organisations that can mobilise for collective action. This online platform is the next chapter in the 45-year history of Patagonia's 1% for the Planet activism and fundraising programme, a global movement started by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and conservationist Craig Mathews.
Through this programme, Patagonia has now donated more than $100 million, reaching thousands of conservation groups. Many non-profit organisations work with limited resources and Patagonia Action Works serves to make these groups more effective and powerful than ever before. Patagonia Action Works will highlight and promote the work of those NGOs that are addressing the most pressing environmental challenges. Mihela Hladin Wolfe, Patagonia's Head of Environmental Initiatives, EMEA, says: "We have lost confidence in the world's powerful to take the necessary action to solve the climate crisis in a timely manner. The public wants to know what contribution each and every one of us can make. And this platform opens up the opportunity for them to take action themselves, in the communities where they live. Patagonia Action Works enables people to take action on issues they really care about." With its climate package, the German government has once again made it clear that no effective solutions to the
effective solutions to the climate crisis can be expected from politics. All the more reason for citizens, non-governmental organisations and companies to bring about the necessary change.
Patagonia has been promoting environmental activism in Europe for many years. This includes the recent Save the Blue Heart of Europe and Artifishal campaigns to protect natural river courses and the fish populations living in them. The company made global headlines in 2017 for filing a lawsuit against the President of the United States, Donald Trump, for illegally reducing the size of nature reserves in the US, known as National Monuments.