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Company History
Wikipedia Page

Patagonia is an upscale outdoor clothing company, founded in 1973, spearheaded mainly by CEO Yvon Chouinard. His love of the outdoors began as a young man in California where he had begun belaying down cliffs for falconry. He enjoyed it so much that he and his friends would hop trains to visit cliffs in the San Fernando Valley and eventually climb up and down. But unlike rock climbers before him, Chouinard saw a fatal flaw in traditional rock climbing- the pitons, which were hammered into cracks to secure ropes for climbing then left there. He began to develop, in his backyard, his own pitons, that were made out of a harder metal and were to be removed as you climbed. (I know you said not to reiterate what the site said but this relates to a later point.) Chouinard then began to realize that even these pitons were damaging to the rock face and would ruin the quintessential part of rock climbing: the feeling that it gives to go where no man had gone before. He then switched to manufacturing aluminum chocks that could be pushed in by hand and removed as you climbed, leaving the rock relatively unaltered, and left virtually no trace of man.

Chouinard then decided it was time to change the standard rock climbing uniform, which was at the time "a pair of cut-off chinos and a white button up shirt from the thrift store"(see Company History). He wore a rugby shirt (essentially a polo shirt with long sleeves) which became something of a fad, as the fabric was meant to withstand the notoriously brutal sport of rugby, and had a collar to protect the neck from straps that would cut into the neck. He ordered a few shirts from England which quickly sold out, then realized that Chouinard should make some of his own. From there, the company adopted more and more high-tech fabrics, and began to develop his own clothing line that deviated from the norm of bland colors but remained functional in nature, and has remained that way. They quote the book WIND, SAND AND STARS, (copyright 1939 by Antoine de Saint Exupery) as their guiding design principle, and I think it sums their products quite well:

Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but whatever man builds, that all of man's industrial efforts, all his computations and calculations, all the nights spent working over draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?
It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture, or a ship's keel, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elementary purity of the curve of the human breast or shoulder, there must be experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. 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.

Patagonia was still fairly small (about late '70s) when they became involved in environmental ethics. It began with helping halt the development of a nearby river which had been a spawn for steelhead trout and was declared 'dead.' It wasn't until a young biologist stepped up and showed slides of the wildlife that still lived on the river banks, and of the steelhead spawning that were thought gone from the area. Patagonia began backing this man, halted the development, and have been involved with the environment ever since. They began backing more and more local environmental activists, and are still active in that regard. By 1996, they switched all of their cotton products to 100% organic cotton and it has been that way ever since. They even hope to someday recycle clothing, as most of the materials they use can recycled into more clothing or other products.

Patagonia is now a privately held certified B-corp. They now yearly donate 1% of their total sales or 10% of their profit (whichever is more) to environmental groups, beginning in 1985 (see Wikipedia Page). They also have many programs in place that aid the environment, such as 1% for the Planet, which encourages other companies to do the same, or Environmental Internships, where workers can take two months of full pay and go on leave to work with an non-profit of their choice, among others. Most recently, they have been developing what they call "traceable down," that ensure that none of the birds that were plucked were not force fed or come from unknown sources (see Wikipedia Page), as well as continuing to develop higher tech sustainable technology within the fabrics industry.