Companies like Patagonia are a shining example of how building a business centred around passion forms the basis of long term success. We’re big fans of what Patagonia stands for here at Happy Startup towers, but for those that don’t know much about their story, Patagonia are an outdoor clothing brand selling climbing, hiking and sports apparel online and instore.
Yvon Chouinard, founder of the brand, has become somewhat of a legend in entrepreneurship, documenting his inspiring journey from passion to profits in the book “Let My People Go Surfing” (I’ve read some people review the book as ‘life changing’ and ‘the reason I started my own business’ so if you haven’t yet given it a read, do.) He has an insightful approach to business that lets employees have free reign to do as they please that makes business sense.
Where did it all start?
Since childhood, Chouinard had a love for climbing and mountaineering, building a strong network of friends with the same interest, joining climbing clubs, teaching one another to climb peaks in Yosemite and Tahquitz Rock. Through his experience and endless discussion with fellow climbers, it became apparent that there was a gap in the market for reusable pitons (for people like you and me, pitons are metal spikes used to crack into rock, acting as an anchor for support in climbing). Pitons were originally designed to be placed into the rock, and left behind; climbers needed hundreds for a fairly advanced climb.
In an attempt to scratch his own itch, Chouinard trained as a blacksmith to make his own reusable hardware. Word spread with popular demand and soon enough, Chouinard had his own microbusiness, selling to fellow climbers at $1.50 a piece. He took himself off on regular breaks to The Rockies with only the money made from his invention to fund it. Profits were very low to begin with, at times having just 50c and a tin of tuna to pull him through the days, but it was his passion for mountaineering, doing what he loved, and the small help he was giving other climbers pulled him through the hungry days. Slowly but surely Chouinard’s invention developed into a fully fledged business, setting up a shop to trade and eventually branching out with mountain clothing, equipment and travelling apparel. Today, Patagonia are renowned for their ethical & environmental approach to “clean climbing”, standing as the advocate in many new climbing tools. Patagonia turns over an estimated $400 million annually, largely down to their “do well by doing good” values and of course because one man decided to follow his passion in life.
A healthy business for a healthy planet
Environmental and social responsibility is at Patagonia’s core. They believe that business has the ability to inspire solutions to our environmental crisis, and every choice made within the company plans are done so with environmental sustainability in mind over profits. Other than having complete transparency in their supply chain (The Footprint Chronicles), providing environmental grants and support, giving away 1% of their annual profits to 650 environmental organisations worldwide, one (crazy but it works) example of this is Patagonia’s Common Threads campaign. Patagonia customers are prompted to take a pledge and think twice before they click confirm at the checkout. They’re asked to say to themselves, “Do you really need this, or do you just want it?” If you really need it, Patagonia say, buy it from us and we’ll promise to fix it if it ever breaks or tears. This way we’ll work together to take care of the planet. And similarly, Patagonia encourage sharing the gear they sell to friends and family. The business model sounds crazy, why encourage to share when friends and family would come to you to buy new?
“I know it sounds crazy, but every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money. Our customers know that-and they want to be part of that environmental commitment.” Yvon Choinard
Employees & culture
Staying true to their core values during the thirty-plus years in business has helped Patagonia staff create a company they’re proud to run and work for. They live and breathe their values, and employee has been hired for their strong passion for sporting, environmental sustainability or customer service. The culture (and business) centres around the people, and the people celebrate each others individualities. They create a culture where employees can embrace all roles in their lives not just their job (be it a parent, feminist, activist, athlete etc.) In an average day, it’s fully acceptable for an employee to take time out to do the things they love, with the right work-life balance. It’s not a place where they sit and wait til the clock hits 5pm just so they can live their lives again.
Patagonia put emphasis on helping communities, too. Alongside the usual company parties, bbqs and fancy dress competitions, departments are often gathering together to fundraise for local environmental organisations. They arrange activities to reduce stress and have fun keeping employee momentum and teamwork high, and as soon as they’re back at their desks, till points, sewing machines or whatever part of the company they work for, they’re feeling refreshed and productive, ready to throw their all into a company they’re proud of working for.
Starting up is hard.
If you’re looking to start a business at some point this year, keep an eye on our upcoming affordable workshops in Central London, where we’ll be helping corporate escapees stop dreaming and start doing. Drop us a tweet or come for a drink with us to share ideas.