Our Patagonia (HQ) Adventure
Earlier this year when Alex first began researching the materials and cuts for our first line of Born to Backpack t-shirts, he was very determined to develop products that would not only inspire people to travel the world, but also inspire them to preserve the world. At the time we had no idea how many brick walls we were going to run into while working to keep that commitment to build an environmentally responsible company without ending up in a financial hole.
Even after the launch of our first line of travel inspired t-shirts, those fears were still hanging around in the back of our minds. But then Alex had a chance encounter with a woman named Yvonne Besvold, who works in the finance department for Patagonia. If you don’t know who Patagonia is, they are a outdoor apparel company that has been at the forefront of developing cutting edge apparel for outdoor enthusiasts for decades. Every backpacker knows who they are, and probably has at least one or two of their products in their bag. After briefly talking to Alex about Born to Backpack, Yvonne invited him to come and take a tour of the Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, California.
When Alex told me about the tour and asked if I wanted to come, I think my exact reply was “Hell yeah!!!” If I had to pinpoint who or what inspired me to adopt the backpacker lifestyle, it would be the first Patagonia clothing catalog I came across about 7 years ago in college. The catalog was probably meant to get me to buy their clothing, but instead the beautifully epic outdoor photos in it left me with an unquenchable desire to ditch town and backpack all of South America (a dream which I am only realizing now, but I’ll save that story for another blog post.)
The first thing I noticed when we pulled up to the headquarters the day of our tour, was that the “coolness” of Patagonia goes way beyond their high-quality apparel. The campus has solar panels covering the parking lot, picnic areas and benches scattered with employees soaking up the sun, bike racks that actually have bikes on them, and an outdoor child care center scattered with toys that look like they came straight from the forest. “I bet they have showers for their employees too.” I said to Alex (I found some later on in the tour).
We were greeted in the front entry with a big smile coming from a guy manning the phones. “Hello thank you for calling Patagonia, this is Chip! Groovy, I will transfer you on over.” Over the door hung a carved wood sign that read the Patagonia mission statement: “Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Chipper – Patagonia receptionist in winter, surfing instructor in summer.
A few minutes later, the man himself, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, came walking into the building after having lunch outside in the picnic area. I think I blurted out something about that Patagonia catalog that inspired me back in college, and Alex timidly asked him if we can get a photo with him. Chip jumped right up, grabbed our camera, and took about 10 of them. Yvon was such a good sport about the whole scene and spent a few minutes with us.
Photo op with Yvon, founder of Patagonia.
Shortly after, Yvonne came out and gave us an itinerary for the day. We were expecting something similar to a 20 minute Budweiser factory tour (with free samples at the end of course) but instead she was gracious enough to make arrangements for us to spend the afternoon there. She had asked several other employees from different departments to meet with us so we could walk away feeling inspired. “Inspired” turned out to be an understatement, because by the end of the day I felt like a fire had been lit under my butt!
Yvonne introduced us to our tour guide, Anthony, who worked in the IT department for a long time, and had recently moved into the HR department. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has a deep love for a corporation, but Anthony and every employee we met that day absolutely have a love for Patagonia. “Nobody is going to make money if businesses keep doing what they are doing now and destroying the planet.” Anthony explained as he walked us through a dozen different departments. Along the way he explained what each department generally does and described how their products move from idea, to development, then distribution (which is a process that can take at least a couple of years).
Anthony, our tour guide, outside the Patagonia HQ
Later in the afternoon we were very fortunate to have a chance to meet with Hans from the Environmental Department, and Wendy from the Social and Corporate Responsibility Department. We asked them as many questions as we could about the basic processes they go through to ensure that each product meets the environmental and social responsibility requirements in each stage of development, and they really opened our eyes to how much persistence and courage it takes to be an environmentally and socially responsible company, but also gave us assurance that it can be done.
The visit to Patagonia HQ was nothing short of inspiring and exactly what our small garage start up needed to give us determination to stay true to our values and mission – “Born To Backpack seeks to motivate individuals to explore the world and become more active global citizens.” The example of corporate responsibility that Patagonia has set for us shows us that if we stay true to our values and mission, we CAN and WILL succeed. We have nothing but the utmost respect for the Patagonia team and we thank them for giving us so much of their time and for encouraging us to continue being Born to Backpack.
Alex geared up for our world trip in his new Patagonia jacket!