The more we think about how and where we spend our money, the more we realize how much power consumers actually have. The power to create demand, dictate supply, and shape the statue our money materializes into. As consumers, the role we play with the power of our dollars is so critical, of the utmost importance even. But, even as we envision a more responsible, better-informed, less greedy market of globally-aware citizens, dare we envision whole companies whose missions fall in step to fan the flame of this movement?
I think the answer is yes, we dare. Because they’re already out there, and they’re doing things the right way for the right reasons.
A company many in the United States are familiar with, Patagonia, is actually built upon the solid bricks of an anti-consumerism mission. Though Patagonia began to provide climbing and outdoor gear for adventure-enthusiasts, it has, rather ironically, grown under the principle of being anti-growth. Their business model is called SEER, meaning they operate under the presupposition that all business, production, and executive decisions are made to be Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible. These values are believed within the company itself, and manifested in the production process, product designing, and sales.
Thirty-three products for sale are fair trade, which doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of their wide repertoire. But, all products are made with the goal of creating a carbon footprint that is worth less than the price of the product itself. Patagonia has many outward efforts to trumpet against consumerism, beyond commercial advertising. In fact, their biggest success in commercial advertising was a New York Times ad released on Black Friday in 2011 that read “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” urging consumers to think deeper about the need and implications of buying more, more, more. They invested in a website named Yerdle, whose goal is to reduce new clothing sales by 25% through their online clothing swap. A little van has a cross-country tour called Worn Wear, to trade in or recycle worn Patagonia products, which are either swapped out or recycled to create new products without extra carbon footprint. They also partnered with Ebay through the Common Threads Initiative that re-sells and trades worn clothing.
In addition, Patagonia is a founding member of the Fair Labor Association, promoting corporate responsibility as extension of an act by President Clinton to end child labor. It contains an extensive code of conduct with lengthy rights for all workers. Though the company does not own any individual factories, they are transparent and assume responsibility for every worker and their rights. They upped their responsibility after a stint in 2000 in which the company opted to increase the number of factories they source from. They reworked their model because the lower cost was not worth the offset of lower quality products and lower wages for the workers. So, they cut their factory number by 1/3 and increased the relationships between these factories to include better labor rights and a greater knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes. Since 2007, the 2/3 of factories remaining has been cut 58% to create even better industrialized relationships and rights.
Patagonia is also transparent with themselves and released what they call The Footprint Chronicles – a direct trace of how all of their products are made, from the workers’ ethics portion to the environmental effects. They also have begun to track minimum wage and compare it what is considered an actual living wage, and increase the wages paid to reflect the actual cost of living, not just the minimum.
Keeping the environment, fair labor, and consumerism at the forefront of their business choices has indeed created an ironic growth. These values are things we would like to get behind; citizens in the US hear what they have to say and rarely disagree, but rarely act on it. I have a hard time believe that Patagonia supports the term “Patagucci” and wants customers to have the same Snap-T in five different colors; these things are promoting the opposite of the values of the company. Even the products themselves aren’t necessarily about style, but rather functionality, quality, fairness, and life-span.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a case study or business analysis on Patagonia’s initiatives or structure. The point is greater than that: Patagonia is an example of a large, decently powerful and well-regarded company refusing to fall into the trap of the consumerist market it is selling to. That sounds a bit like defying gravity, but what a heroic role model for people working to buy responsibly. Patagonia is truly setting an example of how quality and consumer responsibility matters far more than the number of clothing articles in one’s closet.
Simplistic products that connect to a simplistic lifestyle is the direction Patagonia pushes it’s customers in. You don’t have to be a surfer dude or mountain climber to buy a rain jacket or sports bra from Patagonia (though if you fall into either of those categories they have top-notch equipment). Check out their site and do some research on materials and products. But first, check out your closet. We don’t have to be caught in the cycle of cheaply made clothing that doesn’t last long. Patagonia is a forerunner of companies who approach and even push quality, in all aspects, over quantity. Let’s get behind companies with that spirit.
Better World Shopper: A+
Written by Madeleine Williams