Cult brand: Patagonia
By Sam Higgins, 28 March 2016
From 70s purveyor of mountaineering gear to the retro-cool outdoorswear of choice for some of celebdom’s strongest dressers, it’s been a long, winding path uphill for Patagonia. Here’s the story of a dadcore icon.
Before the concept of Patagonia was born, founder Yvon Chouinard made gear for himself and his fellow rock climbers. Teaching himself blacksmithing, he took his company – Chouinard Equipment – from a money-saving hobby to one of the leading US retailers of climbing kit. Rejecting the typical attire of US climbers at the time – beige chino shorts and a white shirt – Yvon donned a colourful rugby top for his mountaintop adventures, which quickly became a sought-after piece among his friends. Seeing a gap in the market for fashion-forward outdoorswear, Chouinard created Patagonia in 1973. During the 80s, while rival brands were selling products solely in tan, green or powder blue, Patagonia shunned convention and injected vivid colour into the active gear game – moving ’away from bland, looking to blasphemous’ and crossing over into the mainstream fashion world in the process.
Patagonia’s ethical stance has been central to its work since the beginning, with its recycled paper catalogues and public support of environmental campaigns. In 2011, the brand ran a Black Friday campaign in the New York Times that advised customers not to buy new Patagonia gear but instead repair, reuse and recycle their existing garms. Although the plan was to celebrate a DIY attitude, the buy-less plea actually resulted in sales increasing by 40% over the following two years.
Fast forward to 2016 and Patagonia’s reputation has hit peaks we doubt even Yvon could ever have imagined. Some of the brand’s key pieces – overhead jackets and quarter-zip fleeces – are back in a big way right now and we’ve seen a host of stylish celebs such as Drake and Shia LaBeouf copping pieces. While its history is impressive, Patagonia’s evolving audience and consistent ethical focus is a testament to the sort of persistence and bold ambition you’d expect of a label started by a guy who clambered up sheer rock faces for fun.