The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia is known as a sustainable pioneer. From the start, the brand’s mission is to make the best product possible, without harming people or the environment. As a company, they also actively work on projects to solve the environmental crisis.
But is Patagonia really worth the pioneer title or is it mainly extremely good marketing? COSH! dug deeper!
In 1994, Patagonia was one of the first fashion companies in the world to switch all their cotton items over to solemnly using organic cotton. This was quite revolutionary, because at that time there was hardly any organic cotton available. In order to make the switch happen, Patagonia worked very closely with their cotton farmers. Two years later, the brand had replaced all conventionally grown cotton in their collections with organic cotton.
The clothing brand has also been using hemp for a long time already. Hemp is a natural fibre that is pretty rare in clothes, and Patagonia were one of the first brands to start using recycled PET bottles in their outdoor jackets and fleece sweaters. The brand also recently started selling knitted jumpers made from recycled wool.
All this shows that Patagonia was a revolutionary company from the start and still is an inspiration for many other companies. All materials they use are always extensively researched and tested for their quality, functionality and environmental impact.
One flaw we did spot is that Patagonia still uses recycled polyester for fleeces and T-shirts, something we’re not very fond of considering the consequences. When you wash clothes with (recycled) polyester, harmful microplastics are released and eventually end up in the sea and our drinking water. Want to know more about microplastics? Then we suggest you click this link.
The good news is that Patagonia does have the ambition to replace all plastics (polyester, nylon) with biodegradable materials by 2025. Would you like to support this positive change? Then we advise you to avoid clothing, which needs washing quite often, with polyester as much as possible. Preferably only go for recycled polyester when buying a raincoat, backpacks or tight sportswear. If you do have clothes with polyester in your closet, then don't forget to use a Guppyfriend during washing.
Patagonia offers a lifetime warranty and a (free) repair service to its customers. The brand explicitly opposes the disposable culture we live in with their 'Don't buy this jacket' advertising campaigns. However, this campaign led to more purchases which is opposite to their message. Patagonia does have a strong second-hand market and keeps its value quite good. They also offer second-hand options on their own website.
A clever marketing ploy on the part of the company. Another project is 'Worn Wear'. With this, Patagonia toured Europe with a minivan to offer free clothing repairs.
Despite all the positive messages, we also heard some critical voices about the brand. In 2015, Greenpeace accused Patagonia of using toxic chemicals in their products. A while later, animal rights organisation PETA confronted the clothing brand with animal-unfriendly practices at an Argentine sheep farm, where Patagonia gets its wool from.
As a result, Patagonia stops all cooperation with the sheep industry and sets up its own 'Responsible Wool and Down' standard (RSW label). This is a list of criteria that purchased wool or down must meet in order to guarantee animal welfare. Several other companies have already joined today, including H&M and C&A.
But... Dutch news platform, ‘One world’ warns that it is too early to say whether the RSW label can really guarantee animal welfare. The question also remains how accessible certification is, smaller brands and sheep farmers often don't have the money to be certified despite the fact that they treat the animals with respect.
Patagonia has good intentions to guarantee animal welfare in their clothing, but because of the long supply chains and many middlemen, it remains difficult to say with 100% certainty that all wool has been produced in an animal-friendly manner.
Patagonia strives for social equality at work. Patagonia currently has an almost 50-50 distribution between men and women at work. Last August, the company signed the Equal Pay Pledge, which encourages American companies to ensure that their employees receive a fair wage.
Many of Patagonia's garments are stitched in Asia according to the Fair Trade Certified sewn label, which guarantees fair pay and good working conditions. Unfortunately, the situation in cotton plantations, yarn spinning mills and textile factories is not clear
Not only does Patagonia make sustainable outdoor clothing, raincoats and T-shirts. The brand also actively contributes as an innovator and lobbyist for a sustainable world. They experiment with alternative earning models and started a second-hand market with their clothing. Patagonia also openly expresses its support for the Green New Deal. Every year, the company donates 1% of its profits to projects that support the planet.
The Patagonia website features the California Transparency Act. However, we discovered that there is a factory in Japan at the bottom of the website for clothing 'made in Thailand'. The list of manufacturers is well hidden on the website and it is not clear if it is up to date with what is actually sold. So the transparency of the brand could certainly be improved.
Patagonia is a revolutionary clothing brand that has been trying to contribute to a better world since the 1990s. Through their extensive research and search for sustainable materials, the clothing brand gives the entire fashion industry a boost.
However, the clothing brand is not flawless either. The big distance with the wool producers, makes transparency more difficult and the company also succeeds in maximising their profits through good marketing campaigns, which is contradictory to the ambition to make people consume less. We definitely admire the brand for the work they have done so far but we do keep a critical eye on some points.