Patagonia, a manufacturer of upscale outdoor clothing, is known for its various environmental sustainability efforts. The privately held company has been known to promote used wear and ask consumers to think twice before buying its products. In spite of what looks like an anti-marketing effort, the company has seen its revenues grow in the face of a challenging environment for traditional retailers. How has the company managed to pull this off?

“Don’t Buy This Jacket”

With consumers becoming more frugal during the Great Recession and its aftermath, they were less inclined to buy on impulse and tended to shop more for value. Consumers were becoming more interested in goods that lasted long, and Patagonia saw an opportunity there to tout its own long-lasting wares. 

Key Takeaways

  • Patagonia is an apparel retailer known for its upscale outdoor clothing and various environmental sustainability efforts.
  • The company continues to grow by offering products that are designed to last.
  • Patagonia announced in 2017 that it would give merchandise credits for certain used apparel.
  • The company has been active on the environmental and political fronts, which resonates well with the Patagonia's loyal customer base.

The marketing strategy led to the company’s running an advertisement during the 2011 Thanksgiving season that read “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The advertisement talked about the cost to the environment of one of the company’s best-selling fleece sweaters, asked consumers to reconsider before buying the product, and instead opt for a used Patagonia product. In spite of this, or because of this, the company saw its revenues grow about 30% to $543 million in 2012, followed by another 6% growth in 2013. The company was estimated to reach roughly $1 billion in sales in 2018.

Walking the Walk

What resonates with Patagonia customers is that the company doesn’t just talk the environmental talk. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, an accomplished rock climber, also backs up the company’s talk with its actions. The company donates a portion of its revenue to environmental causes and uses recycled, “Fair Trade” certified, and organic material in its clothing. It also uses solar energy at its company headquarters in Ventura, Calif., and it is one of the founders of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a group of companies that has promised to reduce its environmental footprint.

Patagonia has also engaged in initiatives such as sending out an environmentally friendly truck on a trip across the country, in a bid to help consumers repair their outdoor gear and sell used Patagonia wares to them. Moreover, as a way to promote used Patagonia wear, the company has invested in Yerdle, a startup that aims to cut down on peoples’ purchases of new products. And another Patagonia advertisement campaign in 2013 warned against the sort of development that used up the planet's resources.

In 2017, the company said that certain Patagonia merchandise that is in good condition could be returned for credits. The used merchandise is cleaned, repaired, and sold on Patagonia's "Worn Wear" website.

The company was active on the political front in 2017 as well. It organized a boycott of the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City after Utah passed a bill to transfer federal lands to the state. Patagonia also sued the U.S. government and President Donald Trump in 2017 regarding proclamations to reduce the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost 50% and the Bears Ears National Monument by 85%. 

Resonates With Target Audience

It seems that the company’s message has resonated with the sort of environmentally conscious and upscale consumers that Patagonia sees as its target audience. These sorts of consumers like the idea of buying a product that is made by an environmentally friendly company in an environmentally friendly manner.

Beyond lasting a long time, the products can also be recycled for further use. As the company has tapped into more consumers in this target market, they have managed to expand their sales. And the company’s consumers could also have taken advantage of its efforts to facilitate the sale of used products and have used the money to buy new Patagonia products.

Of course, it is likely that others who were not so environmentally conscious just brought the product after seeing the company’s advertisements. It also doesn’t appear that everyone is religiously following the company’s exhortation to recycle.

In 2018, Patagonia said it is donating $10 million that it received from President Trump's 2017 tax cuts to groups committed to protecting the environment and finding solutions to the climate crisis.

Nonetheless, as a result of its successful marketing, Patagonia has almost 40 stores in the United States and more than a dozen outside of North America. The company also launched an environmentally friendly food business.

The Bottom Line

Even as Patagonia has led an effort to expand the useful life of its products, an effort that is at odds with the planned obsolescence approach of many manufacturers today, it has seen its sales rise. It seems the company’s environmentally friendly efforts have resonated with the sort of consumer it targets. More of these people are buying Patagonia products as they see the company’s long-lasting wares as a way to express their values.