Patagonia, precedents, & perfection
Pragmatic action rooted in thoughtful, reasoned decision-making and focused on value creation over value extraction is the cornerstone to effective change.
From “giving Earth” a $3 billion dollar company to adopting regeneratively sourced textiles, fashion brands can be impactful stewards of the earth and our food system.
What’s good for the planet, is good for business, says Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard who just transferred the ownership of the company to a trust and non-profit focused on solving climate change.
Does every business need to follow suit? Not necessarily.
But with increasing demand from consumers for environmentally and socially responsible apparel alongside supply chain and consistency issues from the effects of climate change, more brands are changing the way they’ve historically done business.
The operative word here is business. Even Patagonia’s laudable action only works if the company continues to make a profit…which is driven by consumption.
If what might actually be best for the planet is a degrowth plan to reduce consumerism and dependence on fossil fuel-laden materials, that might not be best for business; but without business, there would be no profits to invest in conscious inputs, manufacturing, supply chains, employment conditions, and ultimately a better planet.
So how do other founders and businesses act boldly in a way that inspires mindfulness, strengthens and supports the role of activism, shifts the typical model of building a consumer-focused brand, AND generates profits to reinvest and create a sustainable business flywheel?
In utopia, those with a bias towards action for a better industry could:
Strive for the best until they know better, then they do that.
Invest in regenerative inputs and strive to find ways to reduce fossil fuel-based materials.
Reinvest in workers down the supply chain.
Balance true costs, accessibility, and profitability.
Build for legacy, acknowledging the privilege to be able to do so, and more.
Three examples in the fashion industry who embody one or more of these are:
Eileen Fisher and The Savory Institute
Eileen Fisher’s history is an inspiration for any company founder - a focus on a timeless, circular design that aims to operate as sustainably and ethically as possible within a business framework. They’ve been advocates for labor rights, circular supply chains, social justice, and regenerative agriculture. In 2019, they partnered with The Savory Institute under their Land to Market program to prioritize regenerative land practices and source the highest quality wool. “For an industry where human rights and sustainability are not the effect of a particular initiative, but the cause of a business well run. Where social and environmental injustices are not unfortunate outcomes, but reasons to do things differently,” stated Eileen Fisher in a press release announcing the new partnership.
Timberland and Other Half Processing
Timberland also has a long history as advocates for environmental and social justice and are partners with Savory’s Land to Market program. With their partner, Other Half Processing, Timberland is an example that fully transparent, regenerative leather sourcing is possible. Co-founder, Mark Kleinschmit said, “A lot of animal byproducts — or virtually all of the animal byproducts from high-attribute animals like grass-fed beef, organic or regenerative — were either just not being collected at all, or were definitely not being kept separate from the commodity stream of byproducts.” Their partnership with Timberland ensured that not only were these better hides diverted from waste and differentiated from commodity hides, but it also helps further inject value into regenerative livestock practices and supports smaller tanneries, manufacturers and local communities.
Fibershed is a non-profit organization that develops fiber and textile systems that focus on carbon farming, regional production and processing, public education, and community development. They partner with small producers to decentralize the textile industry, reviving local supply chains in the process.
None of these donated their entities to the planet; however, they’re making meaningful impact as they work to produce textiles and garments that are in harmony with nature.
Environmentally-conscious consumers face a plethora of options: wool, nylon, silk, hemp, cotton, flax, and leather to name a few.
Although natural fabrics have the ability to decompose, textile sourcing methods can still have dark underbellies like child labor or poor working conditions for laborers.
And natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it was produced regeneratively or ethically. Wool and leather can come from animals that are being overgrazed, thereby damaging ecosystems and emitting excess carbon. Cotton, in particular, is one of the world's dirtiest crops, with an estimated 48 million pounds of pesticides used on cotton grown in the United States alone in 2017 and globally emits 220 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
For consumers concerned about differentiating between greenwashing and brand activism, Good On You provides ratings on thousands of clothing brands based on their treatment of humans, animals, and the environment. The highest quality goods aren’t often the most accessible goods, but consumers can still be mindful and not let an inability to make perfect purchases be the enemy of good ones.
Consumers can sill be mindful and not let an inability to make perfect purchases be the enemy of good ones.
In closing, consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of humanity's impact on the planet and strive to make that impact a positive one.
Any company, organization, founder, or individual that can, incrementally or monumentally, accelerate regeneration and help us rethink and find new approaches to capitalism that are equitable and focused on value creation over value extraction is good for the planet.
Pragmatic action based on thoughtful, reasoned decision-making is the cornerstone to effective change.
Podcast: Arizona Muse from walking fashion shows for Prada to global activist for biodynamic farming from Investing in Regenerative Agriculture
Podcast: Leading with purpose with Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy and Chief Storyteller from Positive Leadership
Lagom Leather - fully traceable leather goods from White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia
From the New York Times: Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company
Alternative/controversial perspective on Patagonia’s recent going “on purpose” ownership transfer: Patagonia is Accelerating the End of Democracy
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