Patagonia is an icon when it comes to a sustainable business model. So how are they influencing the fashion industry in Australia and abroad and what philosophies are increasing sales and customer loyalty?
It’s always exciting when the fashion industry comes together to address sustainable and ethical challenges. And with Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy at Patagonia recently in the country, it was a perfect opportunity to discuss one of the leading environmental challenges – conventional cotton vs organic cotton.
Jill, who has been working on environmental issues at Patagonia for over 20 years, shared the brand’s story of transition to 100 percent organic cotton. The aim of the evening was to raise awareness of the devastating environmental impacts of conventional cotton, share lessons learned, and foster change on a greater scale.
“One thing that is a personal joy is watching other professionals catch this wave, and understand they can make change. And it’s a profound shift in somebodies professional career when they realise they can actually be part of this,” said Jill.
Influential fashion industry guests gathered in Sydney in June to hear the story of Patagonia’s major transition at an industry symposium series, the Bsessions. With guests from Pacific Brands, Spell Design, General Pants, FBI Fashion College, Apparel Group and Top Shop to name a few, the evening challenged the brands and encouraged the use of conventional cotton within the paradigm of the local apparel industry by sharing Patagonia’s story of transition.
Patagonia has a long-standing commitment to environmental issues. The company is less concerned about the bottom line, and more focused on a sustainable future. They are leading by example showing other entrepreneurs and companies how a sustainable business model can be done. All while churning out a profit while minimising ecological impact.
Globally, Patagonia is making their mark among some of the most profitable businesses. They partnered with Walmart (Walmart’s revenue exceeds Patagonia’s 800-fold) to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop quantifiable standards for environmentally friendly clothing production. They also advised the retail giant on strategies to reduce packaging and water in its supply chains saving Walmart money over the long run.
When Patagonia changed to organic cotton, it tripled its bottom line. Around the same time, they created fleece jackets made from recycled soda bottles. And the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, vowed to create products durable enough and timeless enough that people could replace them less often, reducing waste. He even chronicles the companies environmental damage on their own website.
It is these daring and innovative moves that have set the company apart.
Harvard Business School professor Forest Reinhardt marvels at Patagonia’s marketing strategies. “I’ve never seen a company tell customers to buy less of its products.”
In 2011 on Black Friday – the day American’s go crazy for sales – Patagonia published a full-page ad in the New York Times saying “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. Below the picture of a fleece jacket, the copy detailed how much water was wasted and carbon emitted during its construction. Following the ad, Patagonia sales went up from customers from competitors who identify and align with Patagonia’s values.