Patagonia recently made waves again based on a new corporate policy they recently began implementing. Over the past few years, the must-have wardrobe garment that has swept the financial sector is the ubiquitous fleece vest. Dubbed the Midtown uniform and increasingly lampooned in social media, the zip-up vest is popular garb with VCs and Silicon Valley’s tech set.
Selling like hotcakes, these vests were on track to hit approximately $100 million in 2018. Companies were ordering them, co-branding their logo on the opposite side, and giving them out to new employees, customers, and conference attendees. According to Rakuten Intelligence, Patagonia was the number one brand of men’s vests ordered in the U.S. between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018, securing almost 60% market share.
In December 2018, Patagonia changed its mission statement to the following: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” This change made it the first company to essentially clang a 5-alarm signal calling attention to the planet’s acute stage caused by our climate crisis.
Their new mission led Patagonia’s divisions to take a hard look at existing practices and triggered a policy change around who they will sell their co-branded vests to going forward. Contrary to reports, Patagonia will continue to supply existing customers with the dual-branded vests ordered through its Corporate Sales channel. However, it will limit new group orders for co-branded garments to B corporations (which meet high environmental and social standards), or companies that are members of the nonprofit 1% For the Planet, co-founded by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. With this change, the company underscores its support of select companies that place a high commitment around environmental and social standards. To date, Patagonia has donated more than $100 million to the nonprofit, with proceeds going to the preservation and restoration of natural environments.
Patagonia not only walks the walk but continues to deepen its values embodying its brand. In doing so, Patagonia adds new layers of meaning and connects more deeply with its customers and extended community. From day one, the company has baked its brand values and principles into its DNA. Patagonia’s values are antithetical to the larger industry, which exhorts consumer consumption, relies on sweatshops, and adversely impacts the environment.
According to an Accenture 2018 Global Consumer Pulse study that examines the rise of purpose-led brands, 66% of respondents reward brands that deliver on their promises and another 66% prefer to buy from brands that are transparent, explaining fair employment practices, safe working conditions, where they source materials, etc. Instead of hyping its merchandise, Patagonia has historically emphasized extending the life of its products by encouraging the fixing of zippers and holes, promoting its 5 Rs Common Threads Garment Recycling Program (reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine), and even advertising on Black Friday not to buy their jackets. When it comes to transparency, Patagonia is an open book. Visiting their website, customers and constituents will find an extensive library about the brand’s commitment and methods across its entire supply chain from the environmental assessment of materials sourced to its social and environmental responsibility and sustainability principles.
The rise of brand activism
As illustrated by Patagonia, we’re increasingly seeing the rise of brand activism. In today’s world, traditional ads and over-the-top gimmicks no longer move the needle, but brand-building is more important than ever. Consumers increasingly are voting with their wallets. Brands that speak out or take a genuine stand on issues that customers are passionate about are being rewarded. Accenture’s study found that approximately 60% of Gen Zers and Millennials believe it’s important for companies to take a stand on issues.
Calibrating your brand’s moral compass
It used to be taboo for brands to talk politics. With the 2016 presidential election, that notion went out the window. Is it risky? Some say yes but data proves otherwise. Just look at Starbucks’s stock. The coffee company has been boycotted several times for hiring refugees, standing up for same-sex marriage and expanding their Christmas-themed cups. Patagonia again broke the mold when it publicly endorsed senatorial candidates who represent their values to protect the environment around clean air, clean water and preservation of public lands.
Moreover, consumers are waiting to see what a brand says, what it does, and what it stands for - just as they’re waiting to see if it stays silent, on the sidelines, trying to play it safe. Increasingly, consumers are assessing action or lack thereof in how they value brands. Accenture’s study also found that 53% of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. Purpose-driven brands that stand for something bigger than their products are increasingly resonating with existing customers while winning over new ones.
Noted Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, “Every time we make a decision that’s right for the planet, it makes us more money.”