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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Who Inspires Us, Part One: Patagonia

Posted by hal | September 12th, 2006 | Filed under Outdoor Sport, Personal Reflection, Positive Change

I had the best job on the planet. I worked for Patagonia, Inc., a privately owned experiment in social change, masquerading as a successful outdoor clothing manufacturer. A company that puts relationships before transactions, and, thanks to the vision and passion of it’s owners, Yvon and Malinda Chouinard, is able to maintain the courage of its convictions, working to blend business and philanthropy in forming a new model for corporate responsibility and behavior.This incredible company draws people of like minds, and the resultant culture is an amalgam of the values of the owners, and the generations of dedicated, passionate employees who share those values. It’s a culture that blends work and play, activism and athleticism to form an enterprise unique in the outdoor industry, and in the business environment as a whole. Patagonia is truly one of the most progressive and evolved companies doing business today.

So why leave? Well, the decision was hard but the rationale was simple. The model that Yvon and Malinda created requires replication in order to truly be a sustainable model. Patagonia needs offspring. It’s time to take everything I’ve learned from the best teachers one could ever have, and develop the next generation business, dedicated to blending philanthropy and commerce in new ways. To embody the same core values and communicate them through new avenues, to new audiences.

The point of Patagonia’s existence was never about simply selling more products to more people. That was a means to an end, the end being an expanded sphere of influence, in order to affect a more lasting change. By creating more companies based on that same ideal, we will exponentially increase that sphere of influence. I would hope that there are a dozen companies formed in the coming years from the foundations that Patagonia has laid, each new entry strengthening the industry through healthy competition, but more importantly, each one striving to change the role of business, and the ability of the business sector to affect positive lasting change.

8 Responses to “Who Inspires Us, Part One: Patagonia”

  • September 14, 2006 at 11:06 pm | Frank Payne says

    If anybody is interested in additional information on Patagonia and the philosophy behind the company, there is a book by the founder, Yvon Chouinard, called, Let My People Go Surfing, which just came out in paper this month, that is very inspiring reading for anyone looking to create a new, and progressive, business model.

    I have been a big fan of Patagonia for a long time. Although they are sometimes criticized for the price of their outdoor gear and clothing, they have gone a long way towards eliminating the hidden social and environmental costs that people tend not to think abut when buying clothing (or food, for that matter). Patagonia was one of the leaders in using organic cotton in their clothing, making healthy clothing, and supporting farmers who grew organic cotton. The same is true of their PCR clothing made of recycled plastic bottles which are simply the softest clothing around and make valuable use of what some consider useless garbage.

    To get back to the post above, the world needs a great deal more companies that follow of the Patagonia model of sustainablity and environmental awareness, treating their employees with respect and creating quality clothing (or anything, for that matter) rather than making crap that will bring more profits to the company involved.

    I am excited to see this vision growing, and even moreso that it is happening in my hometown of Portland!

  • September 15, 2006 at 4:09 pm | hal says

    Thanks Frank. We’re really excited about adding to the companies like Patagonia who are working toward positive change.

    Personally, I’m also really stoked to be experiencing your hometown. What an incredibly cool place. Just the right environment for this type of effort.

    Thanks again,

  • September 16, 2006 at 1:18 pm | Mark Newcomb says

    Note from good ol’ Mom, Anne Newcomb:

    So I did. I went to Nau.com. Really like it a lot. Lottsa thinking going on there! But I wonder if they make long, wide jackets for old ladies?

    Seriously, thank you. This is a really good web site–and all the other links too. I’m challenged. Maybe the world is gonna be okay after all. Love, Mom

  • October 2, 2006 at 4:20 pm | marty mcdonald says

    Hal, Is your last name Arneson by chance?


  • October 4, 2006 at 2:46 pm | hal says

    Yup. Arneson. How are you Marty?

  • October 9, 2006 at 6:34 pm | marty mcdonald says


    I’m good. Thanks. It’s funny, someone that used to work with you–Rick Ridgeway–told us about you. Anyway, that is another conversation.

    I’m glad to see you taking the philosophies of Patagonia and germinating them at NAU. It’s a really exciting proposition, and one that I am eagerly watching and rooting for.

    There really is nothing like doing it the right way from the start. From my experience, changing companies from within is next to impossible, so I have high hopes for you. One day, I would love to get the download on the vision and approach. Perhaps we can have you come as a guest presenter(Entrepreneur in Residence)one weekend at Bainbridge Graduate Institute up here in Seattle. Michael Crooks came up once and wowed the students back in the Patagonia days. But a start-up is in some ways even more exciting

    Would you guys be open to that down the road a bit? And I really look forward to meeting you someday. You guys rock.



  • October 10, 2006 at 6:36 pm | hal says

    Marty- You have an open invitation to come down here and spend some time with us as well. O.k. maybe not this week, as we’re putting in some massive hour scrambling to get the Marketing part of the web site launched by the end of the month, but anytime after that.

    Rick Ridgeway is a good man. He’s most certainly one of the folks I learned from while at Patagonia. He, Yvon and just about everyone else there deserves all the credit in the world for setting a standard that the rest of us can only try to live up to.

    As to the speaking gig, well, I’m not a public speaker, but we do have a few folks that would love the chance to speak at Bainbridge. Call, write or just drive down to Portland, and we’ll talk about it.

    What an incredible opportunity. Thanks so much.


  • October 15, 2006 at 4:03 pm | marty mcdonald says

    Hal–thanks for the open invite. Soon, I hope. I think we could learn quite a lot from you guys.

    In fact, I am really interested in your corporate by-laws, how you went about creating them, and what they say. Obviously, this is all confidential, but I have struggled with the best way to set up the company here going back and forth between the pros and cons of an LLC, and S and C corps. The key is employee ownership but determining the best way to achieve that is like looking into a prism. Talking to lawyers only seems to confuse the issue.

    It sounds like NAU has established some good bylaws and I’d be curious to learn more.

    Also, can I ask when and where the first webfront will be in Seattle?


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