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Patagonia: The power of brand transparency (Part 1)

April 22, 2011 Comments

Yesterday I had the real pleasure of visiting Patagonia HQ in Ventura, California. It’s a brand that I, and many others, have admired for so long because of the powerful alignment between their core values and how they run their business and make their products. To better understand how they achieve this, I asked Rick Ridgeway, the VP for Environmental initiatives to walk us through their process.

SM: Hi, I’m Simon Mainwaring and I’m here at Patagonia HQ in Ventura, California.  I have the great privilege of being here with Rick Ridgeway, who is the VP for Environmental Initiatives. I wanted to talk to him about a program that I find so exciting because it reinvents the relationship between brands and customers.  It’s called the Footprint Chronicles.  Rick, thanks for your time.  Tell us, what is the Footprint Chronicles?

RR:  Well firstly, Footprint Chronicles had its origins in our need to figure out how better to communicate our sustainability efforts to our customers. We didn’t just want to make an annual standard CSR report. It just didn’t feel like us. So we were trying to figure out what we could do, when we had this idea to go into our supply chain and make videos that a customer could see when they come into our website and find out what the real origins were of their jacket or T-shirt, going all the way back to the farm where the cotton was grown and ending up at the warehouse where the product finally ends up. They can see slideshows, videos and interviews of the people behind the product. But more importantly, these slides, videos and interviews discuss what is good about the product and what sucks. It’s the good and the bad. It’s total transparency. That’s what the Footprint Chronicles is.

SM:  So walk us through the process.

RR:  Sure. Take this jacket for example. If you go onto the website and see this jacket you are interested in buying, click on the jacket. From there, you’ll be able to follow the origin of the product all the way from the beginning in California, where our design department and our headquarters design the product.  You can hear the designers tell you about their choices, like in the fabric. For this jacket, they wanted to have a fabric that was made out of recycled polyester to reduce the footprint of the jacket. They also wanted a fabric that, when completely worn out, can be brought back to us for us to recycle. You can hear this story.

From there, you go around the world to Japan, where you’re going to meet the factory where the polyester is made. You’ll see how it is made from recycled water bottles which, again, reduce the footprint of the product. Once the polyester is made, it is woven into a fabric, which is shipped to a factory here in China, where it is constructed into the garment, which then goes on a ship and crosses the ocean over to here into our warehouse, where it is then dispersed across to the United States and ends up in your closet.

SM:  So it’s a well traveled garment even before you get to wear it.

RR:  Right, so we’ll tell you how cool it is that this is all made from water bottles. We’ll be able to tell you that when it’s all worn out you can bring it back for us to recycle. We’ll tell you how it sucks to make this thing in China and ship it clear across the ocean. That’s not so cool.  What can we do better? So with every story you get to hear both the good and the bad.

SM:  Why have you committed to such transparency, and what value have you seen that add to your brand in terms of the response of the customers?

RR:  The answer to that question goes back to what our core values are. At Patagonia, it’s to make the best product we can. It all starts with that. That’s our pledge to you. But we’re going to make that jacket with no unnecessary harm to the environment. We choose this wording because it implies that manufacturing is harmful, which we tell you in the Footprint Chronicles. Then, when all that is done, we are going to use our success as a company, which is predicated on your loyalty, to reduce our footprint as much as we can and take our success and give it back to the environment.

We find solutions to what we consider to be the environmental crises.  That’s why we’re in business, and because that is our larger goal, we wanted to be as transparent as we could about everything we’re doing that’s both good and bad, because we are in business to make these clothes with no unnecessary harm. By being transparent with you, we can invite you into the conversation. On the Footprint Chronicles, there is a place to let us know what you think, or if you have any better ideas on how to make our products.

SM:  So if people want to understand more and explore the Footprint Chronicles, where should they go?

RR: Patagonia.com  Right on the homepage you’ll see Footprint Chronicles.

SM:  Patagonia has always been a leader in terms of the value they put into a product, but even more so in terms of the values they bring to a brand and the marketplace. Thank you so much for your time Rick. Much respect for what you’re doing here.

Do you find such transparency and accountability from a brand affects your purchasing decision and loyalty? Should a brand be obligated to provide this?

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  • http://mediasnackers.com DK

    Thanks for sharing – classic show vs tell here with great results / impact – kudos for them to even explore the bad as well (and not hide it).

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, so agree. That sort of transparency and accountability is so rare.
    Best, Simon

  • http://about.me/kevin_yoonlee Kevin Yoon Lee

    Simon, another good read as usual.

    Btw, I’m one of your blog subscribers and a follower on Twitter. As a marketing communication planning professional, I’m very interested in creating true values on social media by connecting people and brands, and at the same time, I believe that’s what I can do to make peoples’ lives better. However, people just talk about how to use Twitter and Facebook to push marketing messages here in Korea. I want to make the advertising and marketing people here see the true value of social media. I want to make the advertising and marketing people here see the We First concept.

    So I want to ask you if I can have a chance to translate your coming book, We First, in Korean. I know the book is not published yet, but I’m strongly confident that it will be a great one based on your blog posts and tweets I meet everyday.

    Please think about it, and you can contact me @kevin_yoonlee on Twitter. Thank you.

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks, I’m glad you think the book will be of value in Korea.
    I know it is hard for the advertising industry to see that at first.
    It will be translated and should be released shortly after the US launch in
    July.
    Let’s keep in touch about this and many thanks.

    Simon.

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We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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