When Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard announced earlier this month that he and his family are transferring the company’s shares to fight climate change, he was met with rightful praise for a move so radical in the current state of fashion.
“Earth is now our only shareholder,” writes Chouinard in a letter posted to the Patagonia website on the eve of September 14. The company, valued at $3 billion with annual profits of approximately $100 million, transferred its voting stock to the new Patagonia Trust Fund and of its non-voting stock to Holdfast Collective to the fight against climate change.
The move is widely unheard of for billionaires, clothing companies and fashion houses alike. Chouinard was subject to criticism, like tax evasion speculations or Patagonia’s own participation in unsustainable clothing practices. The grounds of these speculations are valid, considering patterns of the mega-rich.
How often do we see the ultra-rich give up their multi-million dollar company, their status and more for the greater good of the planet?
Big donors are laggards when reacting to the climate change emergency, according to Environmental Funders’ Network founder Ben Goldsmith in a 2021 interview with Forbes. The impacts of climate change, like the disappearance of rainforests, rising sea levels and extinction are issues that are apparently too “abstract” and distant for the average person, and many are more concerned with the issues that “directly” affect us.
When this announcement was made, it prompted me to ask whether brands will follow in Patagonia’s footsteps. Lululemon’s founder Chip Wilson pledged $100 million to protect British Columbia’s parks the day after. Will this trigger more brands to do the same? I wonder who’s next.
It’s common for the average person to ask why clothing companies fail to do more to lessen the fashion industry’s contribution to the climate crisis. The clothing industry is responsible for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, half a million tons of plastic micro-fibres that are intractable from our oceans and the 93-million cubic metres of water used to make clothing, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Fast fashion is far worse with its extremely short clothing turnaround time and usage of cheap, unsustainable fabrics. The Ellen McArthur Foundation also reports that only one per cent of fast fashion materials are recycled into new products.
We need to hold companies accountable for their slow reaction or no reaction towards alleviating the climate crisis; however, we can’t ignore the fact that our patterns as consumers of this vision fashion cycle make us just as guilty.
TikTok trend-watchers sped up trend cycles from years or months to days or hours. The $1,000 fast fashion clothing hauls on YouTube made us believe in quantity over quality when it should be the other way around. You can count on one hand the days it will take a clothing store to replicate an expensive piece made popular by celebrities, models and influencers before it hits the racks. There is an influx of poorly made, low-quality clothing in the market as a result of the demands of hyper-consumerism. It isn’t wrong to want the high-end look at a low-end price tag, but consider what it means for our planet and for you.
Shopping less and shopping sustainable is not easy or cheap. At minimum, clothes from Patagonia are priced around $200, forcing many of us to choose a less expensive route with brands like Zara and H&M. We can shop more mindfully, consider the clothes readily available in our closets or look into the environmental impact of the brands we love most using platforms like Good On You, which tracks the sustainability efforts of many fashion companies.
We must think twice about the impact that shopping fast or unsustainable fashion has on our wallets, closets, and, more importantly, our earth. It’s a small-yet-mighty move that reclaims our control over what we buy and who we are buying from.
For Chouinard, their decision to transfer Patagonia’s shares to fight climate change comes as no surprise as the climber-turned-billionaire openly expressed his dedication to the welfare of our planet since the inception of the brand. The company also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging their own environmental footprint by refusing to use the word “sustainable” on their products and encouraging customers to think about their consumer habits. The company wrote on their website’s Planet page, “Customers need to think twice before they buy. Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back.”.
Patagonia acknowledged that they are part of the problem. Maybe it’s time we do the same.