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Patagonia Clothing: History and Influence

Patagonia Store On Banff Avenue in Alberta, Canada

Patagonia is a unique and influential clothing brand that evolved purely out of a love for the outdoors. Let’s look at its history, influence, and relationship with the environment.

The Patagonia Region in South America

image of patagonian mountains with blue sky backdrop and river

Where soaring granite towers and deserts bound volcanic steppes and glaciers, a world of harsh beauty at the southernmost tip of the Americas inspires majesty as readily as fear. This is a world containing what Magellan called the Land of Fire (Tierra del Fuego). This is the closest American point to the cold and barren Antarctica. This is a 670 000-square kilometer area in Argentina and Chile that is home to over 500 different species of animals, housing penguins, condors, and dolphins alike. This world of ice and fire is strikingly alien with its granite spires and volcanoes, yet equally home to great biodiversity, containing so many biospheres found throughout earth. This world, which may as well be on another planet, is the region of Patagonia.

Containing the southern bits of the Andes mountain range and bordering the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, this iconic region of the Americas is a geographical wonderland. Fjords, glaciers, deserts, steppes, buttes, and soaring peaks are among the many terrestrial variations of this world. Exploring this region is to explore one of the most unique places on earth.

Before Ferdinand Magellan’s 1520 voyage (and the Spanish Crown’s claim to what they called Patagon), this area had been inhabited by native peoples as far back as the 13th millennia BC: archeological evidence of human activity has been discovered in the Monte Verde region that dates to 14 500 years ago. These areas were populated by such indigenous groups like the Chono, Kaweshqar, Yaghan, Tehuelches, and more, all of whom were driven to near-extinction shortly after European “claims” to the land occurred. Cave paintings like those found in the Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz, Argentina, are extremely important anthropological artefacts that can teach us more about these native peoples, the world they inhabited, and modern man today.

These people existed in harmony with the harsh landscape that surrounded them: they navigated the steppes, glaciers, and archipelagos, cohabitating with nature in a world where magma met ice. Far from the claims of ‘discovery’ made in European self-righteousness, these were the first explorers of Patagonia.

However, as time went on, European colonists would arrive and claim the Americas to settle there in future, hoping to control geopolitically valuable areas such as the Strait of Magellan to control critical supply routes and defend their recently acquired territory. The Spanish Crown would have a chokehold on the region, displacing many indigenous peoples thereafter.

image of spanish exploration ships in water with ice and mountains in backdrop

By the 18th century, European colonists were well-settled in the area, raising cattle and growing crops in the arable parts of the plateau. Cartographers, missionaries, and scientists like John Byron, Samuel Wallis, and Thomas Faulkner would come to explore the southern tip of America and map out much of the region, as well as note their discoveries. Most notable among these might be the one-and-only Charles Darwin with the crew of the Beagle, who explored the Patagonian shore closely and got to know some of the people, indigenous and not, who had settled in the area.

All throughout this time and especially in the 19th century, through a process known as the Araucanization of Patagonia, indigenous Mapuche people would try to claim some of these lands in the hopes to also settle in the area. They would attack colonists and steal their cattle, sparking a long conflict between the indigenous Americans and the Spaniards. After the Conquest of the Desert of the late 18th century, the Mapuche people would lose to the Spanish and Patagonia would come to be split between the crown-owned regions of Argentina and Chile. Many Mapuche remained, however, and they make up the primary indigenous group of the area in modern times. As the political situation stabilized, agriculture and animal-rearing (especially sheep) became one of the primary industries in the region. To this day, about half of Argentina’s sheep are in Patagonia. Wool production is thus quite important to the region’s economy (which will come into place when discussing the Patagonia brand’s iconic fleeces).

Today, the Patagonia region is well-known throughout the world. Tourism is one of the central components of the Patagonian economy and has been since the latter part of the 20th century: cruises, whale watching, guided tours and more attract adventurers from all over the globe. There is also the significant exertion of foreign interests on the region. Large controversy over the purchases of enormous swathes of land by foreigners and private interests – including Sylvester Stallone and Italian fashion magnate Luciano Benetton – have forced people to reconsider the need to protect and sustain nature in the region. Some of these buyers have faced criticism for pushing out indigenous peoples, mistreating local workers, and their heavy-handed implementation of large-scale mining and fracking operations.

Originally, the primary source of modern tourism in Patagonia came from backpackers, hikers, and importantly for our topic today, climbers. For the adventurer and nature-lover, Patagonia is unique to the rest of the world: its granite and sandstone mountains represent amazing climbing territory, and the deserts, plateaus, forests, and glaciers open up massive possibilities to explore nature in dramatic and exciting new ways. Patagonia is a very special place here on earth. Unfortunately, the Patagonian biosphere is increasingly under threat by mining, extraction, and over-use on the part of forestry industries, spurring action from governmental and non-governmental bodies alike.

image of a glacier in a patagonia over turquoise water and mountain backdrop

This special region would serve to inspire many, including the founder of its eponymous clothing company whose central vision was the outdoors and its preservation. Taking its name from a mysterious and diverse land with a history of adventure and exploration, the Patagonia region would serve to highlight some of the main elements aspired to by the brand’s founders and acolytes. It was a world that evoked majesty and equally a heavy respect of the outdoors. It was a place for humans to be humbled. It was the perfect inspiration for the vision of Patagonia clothing.

The Patagonia clothing brand is closely associated with a continued effort to protect this region and their desires for sustainability and protection of the natural environment is critical to their brand. We’ll explore this later. For now, we’ll travel far north, to Ventura, California.

History of the Brand: Innovation from Necessity

image of a backlit patagonia storefront sign

In 1953, a 14-year old member of the Southern California Falconry Club learned to rappel down a cliff in order to reach the falcon nests (aeries) with his fellow club-mates. This experience on the cliff-side would change him forever, sparking a lifelong interest in mountaineering, exploration, and climbing giant rocks. This man’s name was Yvon Chouinard and he would soon become one of the most important climbers and innovators in the development of the modern climbing world. He would create the Patagonia brand through a number of unique entrepreneurial endeavours and would set the stage for American climbing forevermore. His story is extremely interesting and illustrates many of the key junctions of modern climbing and modern mountaineering. Without the contributions of him and his brand, especially in the context of Yosemite, climbing could never exist in the same way.

Today, Patagonia is a company with hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue, with hundreds of stores in 5 continents and factories in 16 countries. Its logo of the silhouetted mountain range is one of the most iconic in the industry, and their products span everything from clothing and hiking bags to surf gear and camping food. Patagonia is a business that has achieved great success without compromising its founding vision and commitment to the outdoors – in fact, the protection of the outdoors is a central facet of this self-proclaimed ‘activist-company’. This massive corporation did not emerge out of thin air, however. It was built slowly or rather, forged, through the efforts of amateur blacksmith and climbing innovator Chouinard.

After Chouinard discovered his love for climbing, he began involving himself with the Californian mountaineering scene. He joined the iconic and still-running Sierra Club, making ascents on Stoney Point and Tahquitz Rock in California. He and fellow climbing friends however, including the legendary photographer/climber Tom Frost, yearned for bigger ascents. They would look further into the mountains, toward the Yosemite Valley.

image of a mountain face and waterfall in yosemite park, framed with woods and a lake

Today, Yosemite is one of the most iconic rock climbing destinations in America, perhaps even the world. Elite climbers come to this park to push themselves, break records, and challenge the ideas of human limitations in the mountains. The massive granite walls of Sentinel, El Capitan, and Half Dome have provided inspiration to the lives of climbers and adventurers. Equally, these ascents have claimed the lives of many others. It is the harsh birthplace of American rock climbing, the foundation for modern sport ascents, and home to some of the most technical and challenging routes in existence. This is no climbing gym with mats and perfectly fixed anchors: this is a place where one wrong move can lead to horrific consequences. This is the wild. As such, climbing in Yosemite is dead serious.

Chouinard and the ambitious members of the Sierra Club knew that Yosemite provided the best environment for them to sharpen their skills on the mountain. Here, they would learn to climb big walls, learn the nuances of multi-pitch and multi-day ascents, and face the raw power of the mountain in ways many modern, more casual climbers (thankfully) don’t have to anymore. He and his colleagues would begin to articulate some of the foundational concepts around modern climbing, making distinction between styles, perfecting pre-existing routes, and completing first ascents of walls never attempted. As such, he would come to an intimate understanding of the gear that was needed to complete these climbs as safely and efficiently as possible. He and his colleagues are truly the pioneers of American climbing.

In 1957, Chouinard bought a second-hand forge at a southern California junkyard. With an anvil, used tongs, used hammers, and an idea, he taught himself to blacksmith in the hopes of making pitons that directly suited the new styles of climbing he and his colleagues were starting to develop. He wanted to create gear suited for Yosemite – suited for big mountain climbs. For those who do not know, pitons are steel metal spikes that were traditionally driven into the wall – carabiners were then able to be attached and the climber could continue up the wall with relative safety. Setting up many pitons up the route would protect climbers if they were to fall, turning a 300+ foot drop into a 10 foot one.

Today, camming devices and nuts are more commonly used (in order to better protect the rock) but many ‘fixed’ piton routes still exist, driven into the wall by the climbers who first made the ascent. Think about that for a second: for every route with fixed pitons, there was a climber who had to do it without pitons to install them. In order to test and design the route for other climbers to ascend, one climber would ‘lead’ and drive pitons into the rocks so ropes and carabiners could be fixed through. Despite being attached to the pitons already installed, one small mistake could lead to catastrophe for you and your fellow climbers. Imagine you are climbing up a route and setting up the next anchor point by which you will attach your rope. Around 8 feet below you lay the last piton you set up. There is nothing holding you in place above – holding on to just the rock, you hammer in another steel spike. Were you to fall at this point, you wouldn’t just be falling 8 feet to the next anchor: you would fall the 8 feet plus whatever the distance of your rope is from here to the piton. You might drop over 20 feet with the chance of slamming into the wall and knocking yourself unconscious (or worse), equally putting extreme torque on the rope and potentially throwing the climbers below you off the wall. A good piton was critical on the rock face – a good piton was your lifeline.

Chouinard had done many climbs and knew the absolute importance of proper pitons. He began to smelt new ones with his second-hand forge, prototyping different shapes and sizes that could be well-suited to different types of climbs, rock types, and cracks. He made his first few out of an old harvester blade and would test them with members of the Sierra Club, the first of which was an early ascent of Sentinel Rock in Yosemite. He was building with the express purpose of creating the best possible gear for big mountain climbers. Testing with new materials that were lighter and more durable, Yvon soon became well-known for his climbing ability and custom pitons.

His friends and fellow climbers would buy Chouinard’s forged goods, which he began selling out of the back of his car. Setting up a shop in his parent’s Burbank backyard, he would sell pitons at $1.50 a piece, traveling California to surf and climb for the next 7 years. He and his climbing colleagues would continue to push the limits of Yosemite and lived a quasi-outlaw climbing life, hiding from rangers and living as cheaply as possible. These men climbed for the love of the sport and the desire to push themselves further – no other reason.

image of vintage climbing gear including boots, axes, ropes

In 1965, Chouinard and aforementioned climber/photographer Tom Frost started Chouinard Equipment. After having seen the importance and utility of their custom gear, their aim transformed into redesigning every climbing tool from the bottom up. They wanted to innovate the entire industry with lighter, more durable, more dependable, and more functional gear. The Patagonia website outlines Chouinard Equipment’s driving design principle through the words of French pilot Antoine de Saint Exupery, who once said “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness”.

Chouinard and Frost’s equipment project exploded in the climbing world. 5 years later, they were the top producer of climbing hardware in the US. But the climbing world was changing: people were beginning to realize that the traditional piton method was deeply damaging to the rock faces and exacerbated a level of danger through the repeated installation and removal of the steel spikes. To avoid continually pockmarking the beautiful mountain faces they loved so dearly, Chouinard Equipment decided to pivot away from pitons for the sake of the environment. Instead, they designed some of the first modern ‘chocks’, nuts that could be manually wedged into pre-existing features of the rock. In their first catalogue (1972), they introduced this new climbing hardware with a 17-page environmental essay by colleague Doug Robinson. This would foreshadow their continued approach to innovation in collaboration with the environment and sustainability. In a few months, pitons were old news: Chouinard Equipment’s chocks couldn’t be made fast enough to meet demand.

At this point, Chouinard had begun to think about climbing apparel. According to the history on Patagonia’s website, Chouinard had begun to wear Scottish rugby shirts to climb. The high collar of the garment as well as its thick, rigid material could provide protection against the heavy climbing hardware that had to be slung across the neck. Seeing the way other climbers wanted similar performance-oriented clothing, Chouinard Equipment looked to making climbing-oriented apparel. They began selling beanies, bivy sacks, raingear, and rugby shirts in the early 1970s. Importantly, they began looking away from traditional cotton, wool, and down materials. With the innovation of the latter half of the 20th century, synthetic materials could be the key to increasingly lightweight, warm, and durable climbing garments. They would call this line of clothing ‘Patagonia’, named after the mysterious, harsh, and beautiful world at the southern tip of the Americas that inspired adventure and respect of the wild.

image of multiple hex-shaped climbing wedges with purple rope

By 1980 they were beginning to perfect their approach to the Patagonia line of clothing, reimagining and innovating the entire climbing outfit from the base outwards. With synthetic pile sweaters layered overtop of moisture-wicking polypropylene long underwear, Patagonia would be the first clothing company to teach consumers about the proper ways to layer for the outdoors: base layer transports moisture, middle synthetic pile adds and retains warmth, outer shell protects from wind and rain. They built their clothing strictly for utility and outdoor use, teaching their customers how to dress for safety and comfort. They defined the modern layering system in a way that no other company has ever been able to do. Comfort and protection in the mountains was beginning to change because of the efforts of these climbers. The results were almost immediate: the outdoor community moved away from wool and cotton, embracing the high-tech materials and dressing theories espoused by Patagonia’s founders and engineers. Think about the stereotypical (and semi-corny) skiing and outdoor outfit from the 80s: tight long johns, synthetic pile fleeces, and headbands. This trend and look came from Patagonia and only Patagonia: this company was directly shaping the outdoor gear industry in a way no other brand had yet done. People were warmer and comfier in the outdoors than they had ever been. Patagonia was a huge success.

Chouinard, Frost, and the other designers were not satisfied, however. They continued to push the limits of outdoor garments, testing and prototyping new materials like Synchilla and Capilene. At this point, they would focus a great deal of money and attention to the R&D process. They wanted materials that were more hydrophilic than ever before, warmer than ever before, lighter than ever before, and more durable than ever before. Polypropylene long johns would come to be replaced with Capilene polyester and the first iconic Patagonia fleeces made of Synchilla fabric were introduced in 1985. The outdoor community received (and purchased) it with open arms (and wallets). Equally, as mentioned by the website’s history, Patagonia would set itself apart from other outdoor brands by incorporating vivid colors into their designs. The iconic bright and bold colors of 80s outerwear and the replacement of neutral, beige designs stems largely from this brand. Rugged and loud, Patagonia was making bold, decisive steps in their industry.

In 1991, reeling from an economic recession that was paired with the company’s unsustainable growth, Chouinard made the difficult decision of laying off 20% of his staff, many of whom were friends. In a moment of existential panic, he flew the head employees, designers, and managers to camp, climb, and explore the Patagonia region, hoping to reflect and better understand the direction of his company. They left inspired and with purpose to approach their products and their work culture in a new way.

Their vision of work culture began to formulate. An open approach to office work as a whole prompted them to focus on their staff in a way many companies didn’t (and still don’t). They did not have cubicles. They would sponsor trips into the backcountry. They would build an on-site childcare center and fed their employees clean, organic food. They paid their workers well and built a business model around sustainable scaling with a long-term vision for the future. They adjusted price points, started working with small producers, and began to sharpen their focus on the environment. They wanted to maintain the founding values of their company, itself founded on innovation, creativity, sustainability, and the people that loved and protected the outdoors. This attitude has not changed today and if anything, is stronger than ever.

Far from Ventura and his parent’s backyard forge, Chouinard is now one of the most important figures in the outdoor community: not just for his contributions to the clothing industry but for his approach to the outdoors and a healthy work environment. Today, Patagonia is a leader in all these fields, even recognized in 2015 by Obama for their “commitment to working families”.

Activism Work/Sustainability Initiatives

image of a hand holding a patagonia jacket's label, showing fair trade certified logo

Aside from their commitment to working families and attitude of innovation, Patagonia has spearheaded numerous environmental and sustainability initiatives. For one, at the base of their production, they have an “ironclad guarantee” around their products. They, much like other sustainable clothing brands, prefer that your clothing lasts a while and does not necessitate constant purchases. They offer a quality/satisfaction guarantee on all their products and offer repair services for damage due to use. The approach to repairing as opposed to re-upping is critical to identify.

Their modern approach to materials has crystallized in robust environmental and animal welfare responsibility policies. According to their website, 87% of their fabrics are made with ‘preferred materials’, meaning durable and sustainable production is at the core of their business model. 100% of their down is ethically sourced and environmentally certified to rigorous criteria set by the Advanced Global Traceable Down Standard. All of their cotton is grown organically with standards meant to encourage sustainable growing, and they recycle many materials back into the production process like spandex, down, cotton, and others. They even have a line of clothing made from recycled fishing nets called NetPlus. They abide by many international standards around wool sourcing and supply chain environmental responsibility and have a full program in their production process dedicated to providing foreign workers with fair trade and living wages. Social and environmental responsibility is a core value of this company.

One begins to see the approach Patagonia has to the notion of being a business in this stage of capitalism. They have equally understood their role as a billion-dollar corporation and the effect they have on the environment. As such, environmental awareness and activism is a central part of their cultural and business model. In the US, 100% of their energy needs were met with renewable energy. 94% of their line uses recycled materials (including plastic waste in the ocean) and a regenerative approach to farming continues to be their preferred method of sourcing raw materials.

Since the mid-80s, Patagonia has pledged 1% of their total sales to preservation and restoration efforts for the natural environment. Furthermore, they help fund domestic and international environmental groups, understanding that durable change often begins on the local level. As such, in 2002, Yvon Chouinard and fellow activist Craig Mathews created the non-profit organization 1% for the Planet, a coalition of like-minded businesses with the explicit aim to protect the environment through continued donation of large portions of their company’s revenue. These are companies that hope to shape the industry’s approach to environmental impact, hopefully leading to a future of heightened corporate responsibility. Equally, this aims to shape consumer’s attitudes as well, highlighting the importance of sustainable, repairable, and durable products.

This attitude spurred the creation of WornWear, a Patagonia initiative that aims to concretely place the values of sustainability and reuse in their consumption and production habits. WornWear is a series of tools by which customers can “take mutual responsibility to extend the life of the products Patagonia makes and customers purchase”. Customers are encouraged to send in used gear for significant in-store credit, have the gear repaired, and even purchase other used (repaired and refurbished) Patagonia clothing. This gear continues to be protected by their Ironclad Guarantee and extends everywhere from clothing to backpacks.

It is obvious that Patagonia cares deeply about their impact in the natural world. From their sustainability initiatives to their repair policies, this company aims to lead the charge for other brands to adapt to a changing and ecologically-vulnerable world. Today, brands like Arc’teryx, Marmot, Ostrya, and more have followed suit and even gone above Patagonia’s efforts to streamline a sustainable production and consumption model. Patagonia and Chouinard have been innovators and leaders since their entry to the industry.

Evolution of the sport, Yvon Chouinard, and the “Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing”

Image of climber in orange shirt ascending a rock face

Rock climbing has existed in many different iterations since the late 1800s. Mountaineering as a recreational sport and ‘peak bagging’ (summiting mountains) has likely been around as long as people have. The indigenous of Patagonia 14 000 years ago likely climbed those great mountains themselves to marvel at and appreciate the natural beauty all around them. In these ways, the reasons people climb and love the outdoors has not changed.

Chouinard likely knows what that feels like, as many outdoorspeople do. As such, he was not just an innovator in the entrepreneurial or activist sense. He was first and foremost a lover of the climbing sport and a lover of the outdoors. This is plain through the approach of his business, the reason for his debut of selling gear, and the many, many environmental initiatives he has collaborated with and spearheaded. As a climber myself, I must pay strict devotion and respect to the fundamental contributions made by this man to the sport I love so dearly.

The roots of climbing as we understand it today began to form in the early 20th century, with the creation of steel pitons, carabiners, and nylon ropes. By the 1940s, the sport began to attract attention as climbers began to push the limits of the sport with ascents not yet attempted, like John Salathe’s trial of Yosemite’s Lost Arrow Spire. He would place one of the first climbing bolts in this park and set the stage forevermore. In 1958, a grueling 45-day climb would mark the first ascent of El Capitan’s The Nose route, made by Warren Harding’s team. Today, The Nose has a record of being climbed in under 2.5 hours. Things have changed since 1958.

The “Golden Age” of American climbing however, would coincide with (and be led by) our friend Yvon Chouinard and the many climbing pioneers of the 1960s. Yosemite was being explored and climbed in absolutely new ways. Chouinard and his colleagues would shape the emerging styles of ‘trad’ and sport climbing, introducing new methods of approaching the walls and combining an ethical, environmentally sustainable approach to the activity (pitons to cams, as we discussed earlier). Figures like Royal Robbins would define new and emerging methodologies to climb walls previously thought un-climbable, creating standards of difficulty that are still used to grade ascents. Without fixed ropes, figures like Robbins, Frost, Chuck Pratt, and Chouinard would ascend polished and glittering granite mountain faces like El Capitan and push the boundaries of the sport completely. This was a time of radical redefinition for climbing and Yosemite was the proving grounds.

Chouinard was not satisfied with just transforming rock climbing however: in 1966 he would finish developing the prototype for what is now the modern ice axe and crampons, an innovation which completely revolutionized the world of ice climbing. While I won’t get into it too deeply, allow me to paint you a short picture: It is midwinter in the freezing cold of the Rocky Mountains. It is at least 20 degrees Celsius below 0 (-4 F), an adequate temperature by which you can trust the ice. A waterfall, frozen solid and composed of glittering stalactites, looms over you and stretches over 1000 feet into the sky. At points, this route is more than vertical – its cornices mean that partway through your climb you will be hanging off of the ice without footholds below you. You hold a scythe-shaped axe in each hand and swing it into the ice wall to create a hold and support your weight. You begin your ascent, occasionally drilling rods to clip in ropes while the frozen water creaks against your stomach. One wrong move, one misplaced foothold or axe swing, or even a freak accident like an uneven freeze could end your and your climbing partner’s lives in an instant. Also, you’re having fun.

alpinist ice climber ascending a frozen waterfall red jacket

While maybe only true adventurers (and the clinically insane) would see this frozen wall and desire to ascend it, climbing junkies like Chouinard would try to innovate with gear that could make these winter ascents safer and more efficient. In doing so, he would create new opportunities to explore the winter mountains with routes previously un-climbable. His short ice axes with drooped, toothed picks would be paired with 12-point crampons that gave grip throughout the climb. He and ice climbing legend Jim McCarthy would climb Chapel Pond Slab in the Adirondacks, now named Chouinard’s Gully for the man who made it possible.

Through all these achievements and innovations, it is obvious that Chouinard did not do it for money. He was addicted to the mountain – his life existed solely to climb further and in ways previously unthinkable. He and the other legends of the 60s Golden Age in Yosemite were pioneers in the truest sense, thinking outside the box and risking their lives every climb in order to push the boundaries of what was possible. Why? What is it about the mountains that called these men and so many others to look to the heavens and climb? Why did they feel such an urge to protect and preserve these places? The answer exists in the question: it is the same reason people have summited mountains since the dawn of humanity.

I am extremely blessed to have been born in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. For those reading who have never climbed a mountain, I feel for you in ways I could never describe. I hope dearly that you get the opportunity one day. Hiking up a steep ridge, feeling your legs and lungs scream out in protest, even noticing changes in oxygen levels – the mountain often makes you pay to reach the top and pushes you to surpass your own limits. There have been many times when I’ve been hiking and say to myself ‘I can’t do it, it’s over, I’m exhausted, I won’t make it’: I’ve been ready to give up completely. With the encouragement of those around me and by drawing out resilience and determination within, I have surprised myself and overcome limits in ways I never thought possible. The feeling of reaching that peak, of scraping the clouds, is indescribable. Through all the effort of climbing up, with the fears and doubts and pain that often come with it, a deep appreciation of nature, of yourself, and of what you have in your life is earned. The lessons taught to me by the mountains and the forest have been applied to nearly every part of my life, reminding me of grit, determination, and self-improvement.

Being at the top of a peak out of breath, drenched in sweat, and standing over top of everything else is one of the most intense and beautiful ways to feel firmly grounded in the present moment. Being in the outdoors and on top of a mountain is something that makes you feel tiny and humbled as you stare across the rocks and woods that have existed for hundreds of millions of years longer than you have. It is a reminder of our hubris and the importance of letting go of the self-importance that fills our mind in the day to day. To me, it is one of the truest ways of feeling alive. The mountains are a place where you come to learn about yourself and about your world. It thus becomes obvious why so many people feel so spiritually and emotionally drawn to the mountains and drawn to the sport: being out there makes you feel connected to everything else. In these places and in these moments, one feels close to God. When you see this beauty and its inherent vulnerability, one wants to protect it.

image of a hiker/backpacker celebrating a summit ascent in front of a sunset

In a way, we’ve come full circle. Chouinard’s love of the mountain and connection to the outdoors is what makes Patagonia a great company. This is a brand whose influence is deeply intertwined with our modern approach to the outdoors. This is a brand that has shaped climbing in all its forms, influencing the gear, the possibilities, and the philosophy behind what it means to ascend a mountain. Furthermore, this is a brand committed to sustaining and protecting the natural world, the truest place from which these beautiful and spiritual connective experiences emerge. What I like about Patagonia is that it is a a brand that feels like it was made by climbers. Like Arc’teryx, it is cognisant of and singularly-focused on an enjoyment and celebration of the outdoors. These brands were created out of a necessity to enjoy the outdoors in new, safer ways, hoping to innovate so that people can continue to explore.

In an individualistic world so focused on the material and fiscal, those who seek out purpose in the outdoors are increasingly becoming the outliers. I wonder how many CEOs of modern mining and fracking corporations are deeply in love with the outdoors – I’m willing to wager that few are. Perhaps this perspective would change some ideas they had about sustainability and environment in comparison to profit and bottom lines. Patagonia’s motto seems to ring especially in this context – “uncommon clothing for uncommon people” is a reminder to the few of our necessity to protect our natural world now more than ever. It is a reminder to change the ‘common’ ideas we have about living and consuming in a capitalistic, profit-driven world. In this era of climate crisis and instability, our natural environment is one of the few places left that unites and connects all of us in a shared humility. It is a reminder that we are not as big as we’ve made ourselves out to be, that we are as much a part of the natural cycle as birds and fish and trees. It is a reminder of our impact. I hope a continued focus on sustainability by brands like Patagonia will only serve to further inspire other companies, changing our approach around what it means to be producers, consumers, and most importantly, custodians of the earth. This perspective is needed now more than ever, and I only hope it reaches enough people in time.


With a deep love for the outdoors, this is Graham. Thanks for reading.



References and more info


Grailed – Patagonia History

HighSnobiety – Patagonia History

NatGeo on Rock Climbing History 

Patagonia “1% for the Planet”

Patagonia Company History

Patagonia Company Timeline

Patagonia Guarantee

Patagonia Sustainability

Patagonia WornWear

Royal Robbins and Yosemite

Wiki – Patagonia Brand

Wiki – Patagonia Region

Yosemite Legends

Yvon Chouinard Wikipedia