For over 50 years, Yvon Chouinard has been preaching to the choir. The only problem is, the choir wasn’t in earshot…until now.
Chouinard is founder and owner of Patagonia clothing company, now proudly sporting it’s very latest outlet in Jonson Street, Byron Bay. So who is the choir and what has he been preaching? Well, dear fellow Byronians, we are that choir and his message is one intrinsic to our town’s ethos. Patagonia, despite being a multinational company turning over hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, is just about as ethical a business as you are ever likely to find. Originally, the company was in the market of climbing gear. Chouinard, an avid climber himself, saw the unsustainable damage done to cliff faces by equipment and sought to find an alternative. Find it he did and, once this started taking off, he expanded into clothing, always with acute environmental and ethical consciousness.
Now, half a century on, Chouinard is the proud papa of over 50 independent stores and a legacy to be proud of: one of, if not the, first major business to incorporate childcare facilities onsite, one of the first to implement paid maternity leave, a head office – in Ventura, California – made of 95% recycled materials, an organic cafeteria, clothing that is both recycled and recyclable, indeed, an actual incentive program to encourage customers to bring in their old clothing for recycling, organic cotton, advanced wetsuits that incorporate marino wool and plant-based neoprene substitutes, absolute dedication to fair trade and ethical manufacture at every single level of business and co-founder of 1% For The Planet – a foundation enabling major businesses to donate 1% of their gross annual earnings to environmental causes. And all this, amazing and admirable though it is, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Since launching in Australia, Patagonia has ventured into the surfing industry and, given the nature of both the environmental mentality of the company and Australia’s highly ocean-oriented marketplace, it has been a fruitful evolution.
Patagonia ambassador and long time reluctant surf industry spokesperson, Wayne Lynch, reflects: “Back in the late 60s, one thing that we as surfers started talking about was looking after the environment and making clothing that was organic or recyclable and we always thought that’s where surfing should have gone. It’s always amazed me that the industry grew in completely the opposite direction. It really upset me and, consequently, I got fired – endlessly!” But, he hastens to add, Patagonia has never allowed itself to slip into this formula. “People kept saying that you can’t make money out of it, it’s too hard, but Yvon has showed that it’s possible and the breadth of what can be done.”
Surf Mecca as it is, Byron Bay will always attract surf brands, but what makes this new connection so significant is Patagonia‘s alignment to the more spiritual side of the Bay, that profound awareness of nature and our duty to protect it at every level of our lives.
Californian Keith Malloy, another of Patagonia‘s ambassadors was present for the Byron Bay store’s launch last week: “I think the store is just perfect for the area. I think there’s a lot of like-minded people here in Byron Bay who think a lot about environmental issues. It’s pretty neat because Patagonia has based their company around doing smart business environmentally for so many years – they haven’t just jumped on the bandwagon in the last few years. And I bet a lot of the Byron locals are like that too – they’ve been doing it for a lot longer than the latest fad. They’ve been thinking and caring about the environment for a long time. So it really makes a lot of sense for Patagonia to be here.”
Lynch concurs: “I think there’s a certain awareness in Byron, generally speaking, that you don’t really get in a lot of places in Australia, environmental, social and so on – they see a bigger picture, and I think Patagonia really fits into that because the product is so heavily based around responsibility, both environmentally and socially.”
More than just a surf store though, Patagonia offers men’s and women’s clothing for a wider range of tastes and applications. No garish colours are on display, no latest trends pursued. Patagonia has always walked it’s own path, often through the availability or ethics of fabrics and designs, and through this has developed it’s own style; subtle, functional, simple, and all with a fundamental awareness of the planet and its many creatures.
As Patagonia Byron Bay store manager and former Patagonia Australia distribution licensee and brand manager, Glenn Casey says, “We [Patagonia] have, for many years, aimed to inspire and create a different thinking in a lot of people’s minds about what we can do as a company and what we can give back to people. I think Byron is a beautiful place, I find all of the people here beautiful, I’ve tried to create something beautiful and I hope you come in and enjoy it.”
Patagonia Byron Bay is now open at 58, Jonson Street, between Commonwealth Bank and the Byronian. Go take a peak…
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Nov 6, 2013
All Photos (except Yvon Chouinard portrait): ©SubCutanea