LOS ANGELES — Yvon Chouinard, the outdoor enthusiast-turned-entrepreneur who founded Patagonia Inc., thrives in a recession.
In the last five years, his Ventura, Calif.-based company grew faster than it ever has since it started as a mail-order climbing-gear catalogue in 1964. In its fiscal year that ended in April, for instance, Patagonia’s revenue surged 35 percent to $550 million, eclipsing the 25 percent increase it posted in fiscal 2010-11.
“In a recession, people become conservative,” said Chouinard, 73. “They stop being silly. They stop buying a piece of clothing that they have to throw away in a year or two. They don’t mind buying better quality if it’s going to last longer.”
Chouinard shares his insights on how to navigate fast-moving changes in the economy while minimizing ecological harm in a new business book called “The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years.” Published earlier this month by Patagonia and cowritten with Chouinard’s nephew, Vincent Stanley, who also serves as Patagonia’s vice president of global marketing, the 150-page tome uses Patagonia’s own environmental trials and tribulations as a template. While Patagonia has led the apparel industry with its move in 1996 to switch to organically grown cotton, Chouinard acknowledges that even his company should be doing more.
“It’s not a feel-good book,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll lead to some of these companies that are doing absolutely nothing to take that first step. Usually the first step makes you feel good and it saves you money….Someone who runs a barbershop can get inspired to clean up their act or a large company, it doesn’t matter.”
Patagonia has already influenced a number of Fortune 500 corporations. In collaboration with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the $443.9 billion leader of last year’s Fortune 500 list, Patagonia rounded up nearly 50 companies that represent 30 percent of all apparel and footwear sales in the world to join a group called the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Counting members including Adidas, Gap Inc., Kohl’s Corp., Levi Strauss & Co., Li & Fung, Nordstrom Inc., Target Corp. and VF Corp., the group’s goal is to establish an index detailing a product’s social and environmental impact. Chouinard said some members such as Nike Inc. and REI have already started using the index, which would work similarly to the Energy Star ratings for household appliances. Plans are under way to convert the index into a barcode that can be scanned.
“Within a few years, the customer will be able to walk in and zap their iPhone or whatever electronic gadget on a pair of jeans and see how responsibly that pair of jeans was made,” Chouinard said. “Hopefully that will lead to consumers making more intelligent choices.”
Patagonia has undertaken other initiatives it hopes will appeal to smart shoppers. Last year, it started a research and development department dubbed the Forge. One of the first creations was an inflatable vest that big-wave surfers can wear underneath wet suits in case they wipe out under violent currents. Designed by Chouinard’s 37-year-old son, Fletcher, the vest has been tested a few times by surfer Kohl Christensen.
“He’s come up coughing blood,” Chouinard said regarding one of Christensen’s wipeouts. “Basically it saved his life.”
Last month, Patagonia began offering salmon jerky on its Web site and in its stores under a new subbrand called Patagonia Provisions. Aiming to harvest the salmon sustainably, Patagonia works with natives from the First Nations, who catch the fish at British Columbia’s Skeena River with traditional methods such as baskets, traps and beach nets. In addition to the jerky, priced at $12.50 for 2 ounces, Patagonia plans to introduce smoked salmon. Chouinard, who tends his home gardens when not fishing in the Bahamas and British Columbia, wants to research barley, potatoes, corn and grain next.
“I want to make food for the 21st century,” he said. “I want to make things that are responsibly grown, planted or caught.”
To encourage more responsible entrepreneurs, Patagonia is hosting on its Web site, for free, five checklists from Chouinard’s new book. Covering items such as financial controls to prevent fraud, health insurance, unconditional product guarantees, community service and minimal packaging for products, the lists can be used to remind or teach companies all the things they ought to be doing. Chouinard hopes to reach not just smaller, privately held firms like his, but also Wall Street heavyweights.
“We have a tremendous amount of latitude to do what we want to do here [as a private firm] and take the risk that public companies can’t take,” Chouinard said. “We can take those risks and show these larger public companies: ‘Hey, it’s really not a risk at all. It works.’”
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye