Walk into any college cafeteria, Pearsons included, and count the number of Patagonia brand clothing that you can spot at first glance. Chances are the number is anywhere from ten to thirty, depending on the time of day and of course how well you can spot the ubiquitous mountain range on anything from hats to fleece pullovers. When Yik Yak was at its peak on campus, there were at least a few comments weekly discussing the presumed characteristics of people, usually men, wearing Patagonia hats.
Basically, the brand is a trend that has been steadily rising in popularity since 2009. Despite this being one of the first years of the recession, the founder of the brand, Yvon Chouinard tells Mother Earth News that he loves recessions for business reasons. He goes on to say that consumers respond to recessions in a way that benefits brands like Patagonia.
“They don’t mind paying more as long as it’s high quality. What they do is what we should all be doing, which is consuming less and consuming better,” Chouinard said.
But why exactly is the founder of a brand that can be found anywhere from Little River Trading Company to Pac Sun an expert on consuming better? The answer lies in the history of the brand.
Patagonia is one of the rare companies that is part of the apparel industry that puts emphasis on consuming less. In fact, the company ran an ad in the Black Friday edition of the New York Times in 2011 that pictured one of its fleece jackets with the tagline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”
However, if a consumer is inclined to purchase some of their goods, then its something they can feel good about. If you visit the website, you can see that the Patagonia supply chain is completely transparent. Not only can you see exactly what factory might have made your hat, but you can also see what steps Patagonia takes in order to ensure that the factory has a responsibility for the conditions of the employees. They also give one percent of their profits to environmental programs around the world. The environmental initiative is expanded on with their Common Thread Partnership, an all-inclusive program that includes repairing of their products as well as recycling facilities.
So yes, if you are going to walk around with a logo on your forehead or chest, this one isn’t so bad. But at the same time, the trendiness of the brand seems to be missing the point a little bit.
The ideas behind the Patagonia brand aren’t about looking cool or being in vogue. In fact, the brand was quite literally in “Vogue,” in the October 2014 issue to be exact. Alessandra Codinha, one of the editors, lauds the humble fleece and even creates collages to serve as outfit inspiration that feature Patagonia jackets next to pencil skirts. And yes, there were high heels involved as well.
Seeing the trend escalate as far up on the fashion food chain as “Vogue” made me stop and ponder if being part of the fashion industry is what Chouinard had in mind. Of course, part of me also commends the consumers for purchasing from a brand with a background that has solid principles of productions. However, it is when products go being their utilitarian value that I become a bit skeptical. I personally love the brand and own a “better sweater” pullover myself; but would buying another, similar item for aesthetics be beside the point?
Right now, wearing a Patagonia jacket, hat or even a backpack might be the “cool” thing to do. But what happened to the Northface fleece jackets that were so ubiquitous for most of our high school years? Although the company tries so hard to break the cycle of consumption, the problem with Patagonia is that I’m afraid their products may fall by the wayside when the trend has died down, completely defeating their own mission.