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Patagonia: how it has grown more by producing less

Patagonia is a company specialized in the production of outdoor apparel, it is based in California and it distributes its merchandise around the world. It seems the story of an average firm, but what has made Patagonia that famous?

Part of its success is related to the garments that it produces. They have high quality, and they are perfectly designed to fit the preferences of hikers and skiers but that is not enough. There are plenty of firms that make the same type of products. What makes the difference for Patagonia is its commitment to sustainability matters.

Sustainability is a value that Patagonia has embraced since its foundation and enforces through practical actions. These actions range from the 1% initiative (Patagonia commits every year 1% of its sales to environmental groups) to take a firm position related to Bear Ears protected area in the US.

The company is fully aware that the easy way to operate in the market is by selling more and more products, but this is what has made the cloth sector one of the most polluted (researchers have found that 35% of the microplastics present in the ocean derive from the textile production). Patagonia successfully offered an alternative to the fast-fashion market by proposing an idea of the cloth sector related to life guaranteed apparel. In their vision, Patagonia’s garments must be used by their owner for many years, living experiences that bound the people with them.

Patagonia has been able to break the rule of the game. It has differentiated itself from its competitors but most important it has turned into an opportunity something that seems a countersense for the other player in the market: by producing less it has grown more.

An example of how Patagonia has turned this motto into something valuable for the company’s growth is the “Worn Wear Tour campaign”. In this event, which took place for the first time in 2015, Patagonia used a modified van fueled by biodiesel to travel for six weeks across the USA. The primary objective of the tour was repairing gear free of charge to keep clothing in circulation as long as possible. Patagonia set in the van some industrial sewing machines and invited people to meet in the preestablished places where the van stopped. Patagonia asked these people to bring with them their used clothes regardless of their brands. Their message was: “If it is broken, we fix it” - then they fixed broken zips, rips, buttons – giving new life to cloth that otherwise people would have wasted.

The added value for Patagonia was related to achieving with concrete actions its objective toward sustainability and spread the word across the market. Also, Patagonia reinforced the connection with its customer by creating a strong sense of community. The customer stories behind the clothes were the focus of the communication; Patagonia made both its customer and garments the true protagonist of a narrative that could inspire many other people.

Finally, the Worn Wear Tour was not just a one-shot strategy, but the company incorporated it in a broader view: the tour was proposed many times in different countries and contexts. Worn Wear has also become a platform, at the moment available just in the US market, where it is possible to buy and sell Patagonia used clothes.

Patagonia successfully is going against the rules set for the cloth market and has clearly shown how that can also generate growth opportunities for its business. The key element that we can learn from Patagonia is that committing toward sustainability is not enough to reach all these positive objectives. It is just by enforcing practical actions that a company can positively benefit from them.

Written by: Alessandro Benini

Edited by: Nicola Curci

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