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Patagonia—Three Decades of Outdoor Clothing and Environmental Awareness

Yvon Chouinard, the legendary founder of Patagonia, began climbing in 1953 at the age of fourteen.

His start was not an orthodox one. He became a member of the Southern California Falconry Club, training falcons and hawks. One day, Don Prentice, one of the adults, showed Chouinard and the other teenage members how to rappel in order to reach a nest. He instantly fell in love with climbing, the sport that would become his lifetime passion.

Shortly after, Chouinard began to show up around the California mountaineering scene, where a revolution was slowing taking form. He formed friendships with other young climbers from the Sierra Club whose names are now legends—names such as Royal Robbins and Tom Frost. The three of them made history on the big walls of Yosemite, which were still basically untouched at that time.

However, for Chouinard climbing style was just as important as climbing itself. He quickly became aware of how the methods being used at the time were damaging the rock and nature. He learned metalworking and began to make new removable pitons for him and his friends. He also began to sell them. He didn’t stop there. He came up with the concept of “clean climbing,” inventing and making aluminum chocks and other low-impact systems that revolutionized the climbing world.

Four years later he founded Patagonia, based on the same philosophy and motivations: a firm defense of the environment and an anti-corporate mindset focused on social responsibility. As Chouinard observed, “We saw what was happening closer to home: thousand year-old Sequoias succumbing to L.A. smog, the thinning of life in tide pools and kelp beds, the rampant development of the land along the coast.”

So he decided that (as much as possible) Patagonia was not going to be part of the problem. The garments would be of the highest quality, with all the necessary R&D, made by climbers and mountaineers for climbers and mountaineers. They would take great care of the entire chain of production, including the welfare of the workers involved. In Chouinard’s mind, it didn’t make any sense to manufacture gear and clothing for lovers of the outdoors that contributed to destroying it.

He started (and still does) to put a large portion of the profits toward fighting for the planet, financing campaigns against such things as the construction of dams in the nearby mountains, the elimination of buildings in Yosemite, or for the restoration of numerous damaged ecosystems around the world. Patagonia has also spearheaded the use of recycled plastics (all of their polar fleeces are made from recycled plastics, for example), and for twenty years all of their cotton garments have been made from organic sources.

This environmentally conscious spirit has never interfered with the quality of Patagonia products. On the contrary, Patagonia ski and technical climbing jackets, polar fleeces, insulated jackets (such as their mid-layer synthetic insulated jackets) and pants are all of the highest quality materials and design, precision tools ready to be used in any condition and for any activity.

Thirty years later after the birth of the Patagonia label as a complement to the “clean climbing” gear that had already made him famous, Chouinard noted:

We continue to make the best product...During the past thirty years, we've made many mistakes but we've never lost our way for very long. Although we first intended Patagonia as a way to free ourselves from the limitations of the original climbing business, precisely those limitations have kept us on our toes and helped us thrive. We still pursue climbing and surfing, activities that entail risk, require soul, and invite reflection. We favor informal travels with friends – doing what we love to do – to the camera-covered event. We can't bring ourselves to knowingly make a mediocre product. And we cannot avert our eyes from the harm done, by all of us, to our one and only home.

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