The History Of Patagonia


Patagonia is a brand built on a love for the outdoors. This obsession started in 1953 when 14-year-old Yvon Chouinard was out on the mountains with his falconry club, teaching birds how to hunt. One of his teachers instructed him and his friends to rappel down a cliff. Yvon became obsessed with rappelling and in no time, he and all his friends were jumping freight trains to take them to new cliffs across the state of California.

Innovation from Obsession

He began to enjoy climbing up more than rappelling down and moved to Yosemite where he could climb bigger walls. Chouinard was a poor teenager and couldn’t afford to use hundreds of the disposable pitons (climbing anchors) that were used in that era. This led him to purchase a furnace and anvil.

He soon began teaching himself to craft reusable pitons, a product that didn’t exist at this time. They were made from molybdenum steel which was much stronger than the disposable iron models. Word quickly spread of his new invention and Yvon set up ‘Chouinard Climbing Supplies’ where he sold various pieces of climbing equipment out of his parents garden or his car when he was travelling.

Trouble in Paradise

Demand was growing rapidly and by 1965, Chouinard had gone into business with Tom Frost who was a good friend of Yvon’s as well as an aeronautical engineer and climber. By 1970 they were the biggest selling climbing equipment company in the US. However, the pitons were destructive to the rock faces. This quickly made Chouinard Equipment an enemy of the climbing world. Despite their financial success they soon left the piton business and by 1972, they had stopped selling the steel anchors that damaged rocks all together and moved to anchors that left the rocks unharmed. This was a huge risk as pitons were their best seller, but it had to be done. The new clean climbing ‘chock’ anchors sold quicker than they could be made and Chouinard Equipments’ ethical career had begun.

A New Approach

On a winter climbing trip in Scotland, Chouinard was given a thick rugby shirt to wear, he noticed the large collar protected his neck from hardware slings cutting into his neck. When he returned to the states he began selling his own rugby shirts for climbing which were ordered from Umbro in England. They sold out instantly and had a much better markup than climbing hardware. They began selling more and more outdoor clothing and decided to sell it under a new name. Patagonia was born. Patagonia says their name brings to mind “romantic visions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors”. Many climbers saw Patagonia as a place like Shangri-La or Timbuktu, an unexplored, dangerous frontier of natural beauty.

Historically, men didn’t tend to wear vibrant colours, most men's outdoor clothing was tan, grey, forest green or black. Patagonia decided to pursue vividity for their clothing line and target a niche. They used cobalt, teal, French red, seafoam and lemon yellow. Soon, their fresh designs had made them more popular among regular shoppers than with the outdoor community. Their least technical clothing like T-shirts and caps became their best sellers.

Patagonia Today

Since then, the company hasn’t changed its position within the market too much. They sell well designed, minimalist clothing made from organic materials to everyday buyers and more advanced innovative garments to hikers, climbers and all outdoorsmen and women made from the most contemporary materials the industry can offer.

Patagonia pride themselves on their ethics. They donate either 1% of their profits or 10% of their revenue (whichever is greater) to charities that protect the environment. They use solar tracking skylights in their offices, have a recycling scheme for their clothing and they advise customers to “only buy what you need” as the environmental costs of manufacturing clothes are high. They don’t want you to buy clothes, but if you do need clothing, they would rather it was bought from them as they try to minimise environmental costs in the design, production and shipping of their items.

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