Fearless Brands is a new column dedicated to identifying and celebrating brands that are taking a stand, challenging the status quo, and working to build a better future. In other words, brands acting fearlessly. This is not a sponsored column, and brands do not pay to appear here. Do you know a fearless brand? Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last holiday season, Patagonia made waves with a campaign that encouraged consumers to buy less. That’s right, a company actually spent precious marketing dollars to convince you not to buy its products, including an ad in the New York Times on Black Friday 2011 instructing consumers, "Don't buy this jacket."
This year, they're following it up with the Common Threads Initiative, described by Patagonia as "a partnership between Patagonia and our customers to reduce consumption and give our planet's vital resources a rest." Reverse psychology? Perhaps. Patagonia’s financials are looking pretty good these days, but maybe it just goes to show that you can build a strong brand and a healthy company around something bigger than a profit motive.
That’s why Patagonia is this week’s Fearless Brand.
Who They Are
Patagonia is one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of high-end outdoor gear. They’ve built a devoted following around the globe through their commitment to quality, durability, and environmental sustainability. We hear they’re a pretty great place to work, too.
Why They’re Fearless
Patagonia has long fit the mold of a fearless brand committed to environmental activism and fair labor practices, but Common Threads stands out. Consider the initiative's five pillars:
- Reduce what you buy.
- Repair what you can.
- Reuse what you have.
- Recycle everything else.
- Reimagine a sustainable world.
Note the emphasis on reducing, repairing, and reusing what you have, with recycling as the final option. Common Threads is unique because it asks us - not to buy organic, sustainable, fair trade, insert environmentalist buzzword here - no, Common Threads asks us to buy less.
The Lesson for Brands
Building a brand around buying less is revolutionary, not to mention controversial. The notion that we can buy our way to a sustainable future is a fantasy, yet even the most progressive brands are often reluctant to acknowledge that to truly live within our planet's means, we must not merely consume better, but also consume far less.
The fact that Patagonia can ask us to buy less and still turn a healthy profit offers us a glimpse into the future, not only of our relationship with brands, but of our relationship with stuff.
At present, most of our stuff in the first world is cheap, mass-produced, and disposable. Because our stuff is not made with care, we treat it carelessly, throwing away what we could reuse and buying things we do not truly need. Our stuff is made for the wants of today and does not consider the costs of tomorrow.
On the contrary, Patagonia's vision for the future of stuff is filled with care - care for the employees who manufacture it, care for its impact on the environment, care for the customers who will use it for years to come.
Patagonia also asks that we, as consumers, reciprocate that care. It's a role to which we're unaccustomed, which is why the Common Threads Initiative is so remarkable. Through it, Patagonia is laying the groundwork for a new relationship between brands and consumers - one that is rooted in care, care not only for the things we buy now, but just as importantly, care for the sake of our common future.