How Patagonia Leads the Way in Global Sustainability

How Patagonia Leads the Way in Global Sustainability

Cathy Carpetta

Cathy Carpetta

February 16, 2024

In Kantar’s 2022 study, 94% of consumers aim for a sustainable lifestyle, with 49% associating sustainable products with their identity, and 57% stating that a brand's environmental efforts impact their purchasing decisions.

In a world where greenwashing and flashy marketing dominate, Patagonia marketing’s strategy stands out. The brand's journey towards sustainability and its bold stance represent its environmental and social commitment. 

Discover Patagonia's success and how it became the number one brand in terms of reputation among the top 100 visible brands in America.

1. Patagonia’s history: Innovating the outdoor apparel market 

In 1973, Yvon Chouinard, a rock climber, started Patagonia because he wasn't satisfied with available outdoor gear. 

Based in Ventura, California, Patagonia makes outdoor clothes and cares about quality and the environment. 

In 1965, aeronautical engineer Tom Frost joined forces with Chouinard, leading to the establishment of Chouinard Equipment in the industrial era. By 1970, they had become the first supplier of mountaineering gear in the USA.

Following a trip to Patagonia, the company changed its name to Patagonia in 1973.

“No longer can we assume the earth’s resources are limitless”

With 5.3 million Instagram followers, Patagonia is known for its commitment to reducing environmental impact. Standing out from competitors, the brand offers high-quality products with a minimal environmental footprint. 

Save our Home Planet T-shirt collection

Since 2011, Patagonia has been a certified B-Corporation, recognised for its sustainability practices. 

Patagonia donates 1% of sales annually, contributing over $100 million in grants and in-kind donations since 1985.

In 2023, the company is valued at around $3 billion and generates an annual revenue of $100 million. 

2. Patagonia’s campaigns: Sustainability, community, and beyond

2.1 Patagonia's sustainability impact: Advocacy against fast fashion and fostering loyalty

When we look at why Patagonia is successful, we see it's not just about regular marketing. Patagonia made sustainability a part of who they are. Every product and campaign tells a story in their commitment to the environment.

Patagonia's marketing doesn't just sell products. It tells a story of purpose, eco-friendly choices, and community. Their transparent approach showcases each item's journey, celebrating artisans and the environment.

Let’s have a look at a few of their key campaigns!  

2.1.1 The “Footprint Chronicles”

This initiative allows consumers to trace the origins and impact of their clothes. Imagine buying a fleece jacket and being able to follow its journey, step by step, analysing its environmental footprint.

It's a clear way for consumers to be more aware of the environment.

2.1.2 "Don’t Buy This Jacket" campaign

Patagonia's impactful campaign challenged consumerism by urging mindful consumption, especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Rather than promoting more purchases, it emphasised the durability of its products, encouraging customers to buy less and use items longer for environmental sustainability.

2.1.3 "Worn Wear" campaign

In a world dominated by fast fashion, Patagonia stands out by introducing its 'Worn Wear' initiative. 

Encouraging customers to send in their well-worn items for repairs, Patagonia confronts the disposable culture in the fashion industry. 

Worn Wear allows you to trade in and buy used Patagonia gear.

This represents a bold stance against the throwaway mindset. Patagonia highlights repaired items through events and social media, advocating for waste reduction and responsible consumption.

2.1.4 "Vote Our Planet" campaign

Before the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Patagonia's "Vote the Environment" campaign closed stores on Election Day, underlining the brand's commitment to environmental activism.

2.1.5 "Buy Less, Demand More" campaign

Responding to the global climate crisis, this campaign urged consumers to buy fewer products and demand higher sustainability standards. It emphasised the need for a shift towards a circular economy and called on consumers to support brands prioritising sustainability and transparency.

2.2 Patagonia's political and ethical activism 

2.2.1 Bold political stances against the Trump administration 

In 2017, Patagonia showcased its commitment to environmental activism by taking bold political stances. When President Trump signed an executive order to reduce national monuments, including Bears Ears, Patagonia joined forces with Native American and grassroots groups to challenge the order in court. 

The company extended its political stance to product tags, with a limited-edition pair of shorts bearing the message "Vote the Assholes Out." 

2.2.2 Corporate branding ban campaign

In 2021, Patagonia went a step further in aligning its business practices with its values. The brand banned all corporate branding options. This decision aimed to uphold Patagonia's commitment to sustainability and environmental protection. The move resonated with the brand's identity, reinforcing the notion that actions speak louder than words in promoting a sustainable future.

3. Patagonia’s marketing strategy: UGC, ambassadors and documentary 

3.1 Strong focus on UGC and dedicated community of ambassadors 

Despite selling clothing, the brand avoids direct product promotion on social media. Instead, it utilises multiple Instagram accounts – 11 certified and several unofficial but recognised – each catering to specific interests. 

This segmentation diversifies content while adhering to the principle of avoiding aggressive promotions. 

User-generated content (UGC) plays a central role, with athletes and enthusiasts sharing photographs across Patagonia accounts, fostering a dedicated community. 

Since its beginnings, Patagonia has focused on its community. The outdoor brand mainly relies on its community and communication. Patagonia nurtures its community by sharing a lot of information about its achievements, evolution, and programs through its website or online. It has managed to stay true to its core values from the beginning. 

Patagonia doesn’t pay influencers to promote their products. Instead, they collaborate with people, usually athletes or people who often partake in adventure sports, who share the same climate-conscious values as them. These people are Patagonia’s brand ambassadors.

These ambassadors are sorted into different groups based on what sport they play since Patagonia’s gear is also sorted separately according to sport, for instance, @patagoniaclimb and @patagonia_trailrunning. 

The brand, then, reshares the videos of their ambassadors being in their element while wearing Patagonia’s clothes. 

This type of indirect marketing works wonders because it is purpose-driven and is based on mutual values. Moreover, they get to fill their feed with unique content and value their collaborators in the process. 

Since each of the ambassadors are veterans in their respective fieldfields, and customers can trust their recommendations.

Patagonia's ambassador page
Each of the ambassadors has a profile on their website. 

3.2 Communication and building community around environmental and social causes 

Patagonia encourages its customers to share their own stories and experiences related to the brand. They invite customers to send photos, videos, and testimonials about using their products in natural environments or memorable situations.

On its Instagram account, the brand almost exclusively shares inspiring stories from its customers around the world. This reinforces the feeling of belonging to a community that is committed and loyal to the brand.

3.3 Storytelling through documentary and short films

Patagonia engages in documentary production and community co-creation, positioning itself as an ecological media platform. 

Patagonia's marketing strategy now centres on engaging with the outdoor sports community through storytelling, collaborations, and long-form video content. Collaborations with respected members of the outdoor sports community, referred to as "Global Sports Activists," exemplify this strategy. 

By investing in content that tells unique and compelling stories, such as the documentary featuring trans climber Lor Sabourin, Patagonia continues to demonstrate its commitment to values beyond conventional marketing, establishing a lasting connection with its audience.

Patagonia's journey, marked by sustainability and authenticity, is highlighted through impactful campaigns like "Don’t Buy This Jacket" and "Worn Wear." 

The brand's commitment extends to bold political stances and a corporate branding ban. 

Unconventional marketing, focused on UGC and brand ambassadors, strengthens community bonds. Overall, Patagonia's success stems from its narrative, eco-friendly choices, and engaged community, showcasing a commitment to a sustainable future.

As Patagonia continues its commitment, how do you think the brand will improve its supply chain and evolve its engagement with loyal customers and the global community?

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