Using business to make a global impact

What does proactive, dedicated lead-by-example environmentalism look like? Yvon Chouinard. Founder & owner at clothing brand – Patagonia. Chouinard uses his company as a tool to affect positive environmental and humanitarian change on a global scale, long before it was a hip PR tool.

Here’s how you too can share responsibility in shifting the worlds second most environmentally unfriendly industry.

Second only to oil and gas, the clothing industry is responsible for having the greatest environmentally negative impact on the planet today. Let’s take a pair of jeans for instance; to grow, process and dye enough cotton for one pair of jeans requires 10,000 gallons of water!

The manufacturing process alone isn’t the problem, add to that the poor quality of the materials used, the transport required to get them to the store and worst of all, how long they don’t last.

The cost of staying in fashion

Once upon a time the term fashion was relegated to those working directly in the fashion industry or individuals affording to restock their wardrobe according to the season, which in the past has traditionally been a bi-annual cycle – but not anymore.

Nowadays, every corner of the population has bought into the fashion ethos no matter their socio-economic position. Add to that, Fast Fashion has increased the annual cycle to several trends per year. New brands have entered the market with the sole aim of selling disposable fashion specifically targeting the lower income demographic and teens. Brands such as H&M, Top Shop, Zara and Forever21 rely heavily on selling cheap disposable clothing, more often, bringing new trends to the market up to 6 times per year.

How are companies able to mass produce clothes cheaply? Buy paying under age children below minimum wage in country’s such as Haiti and Bangladesh.

Mass market clothing production is not only inefficient, bad for the environment and equally as bad for many humans, the problem is compounded by our newfound propensity to cram our wardrobe. In the US, the average consumer owns 75% more clothes than they did 10 years ago.

“Globally, we’re spending more than $USD2.4 trillion annually and we’re buying so much more in the cheaper end of the market.”
– Economics of Fashion, ABC.

What Yvon Chouinard got to do with it?

Yvon’s brand, Patagonia is different. They’re strict on auditing their own supply chain to ensure every step of the manufacturing process is sound.

Yvon was once asked why he hadn’t made a cheaper line of clothing for a different demographic. “I can’t. I can’t make clothes any cheaper if we’re to make them responsibly.”

Yvon Chouinard at the Tin Shed, Ventura, CA 2010

By spending more on quality, the clothes are lasting longer, you’re buying less landfill and in fact saving money in the long term. When your Patagonia gear begins showing signs of wear, they’ll repair it, often free of charge.

As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer.
– Patagonia, Worn Wear.

You heard right, they encourage you to repair clothes rather than buy new. They even sell 2nd hand clothes.

So why does Patagonia gear cost more? Because they use quality materials such as organically grown cotton, sustainably grazed merino wool, Traceable Down, recycled polyester and hemp. The quality of construction is second to none and most importantly, because every worker involved in the process is taken care of.

A matter of ethics

Patagonia are not just environmentally responsible; they’re activists, philanthropists and Fair Trade advocates.

We’ve awarded over $74 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups …
One percent for the planet

3 simple ways to help

Buy from responsible clothing companies such as Patagonia: you’ll be supporting a company that takes care of it’s workers, the community & the environment.

Buy 2nd hand clothes from Op-Shops: by keeping clothes in circulation longer, you’re reducing demand for production of new clothes.

Be prepared to pay more for new clothes that will last: it’s a false economy to buy cheap clothes. Don’t chase trends. Buy well-made, classically styled clothes made to last.

Recommended reading

A piece of class Yvon below …