I've always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn't appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different; that probably explains the diversity of the Patagonia product like - and why our versatile, multifaceted clothes are the most successful.
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...there's no such thing as sustainability. There are just levels of it. It's a process, not a real goal. All you can do is work toward it. There's no such thing as any sustainable economy. The only thing I know that's even close to sustainable economic activity would be organic farming on a very small scale or hunting and gathering on a very small scale. And manufacturing, you end up with way more waste than you end up with finished product. It's totally unsustainable. It's just the way it is.
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There is a beginning and end to all life - and to all human endeavors. Species evolve and die off. Empires rise, then break apart. Businesses grow, then fold. There are no exceptions. I'm OK with all that. Yet it pains me to bear witness to the sixth great extinction, where we humans are directly responsible for the extirpation of so many wonderful creatures and invaluable indigenous cultures. It saddens me to observe the plight of our own species; we appear to be incapable of solving our problems.
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Climbing for speed records will probably become more popular, a mania which has just begun. Climbers climb not just to see how fast and efficiently they can do it, but far worse, to see how much faster and more efficiently they are than a party which did the same climb a few days before. The climb becomes secondary, no more important than a racetrack. Man is pitted against man.
I live for the moment. I'm basically a Buddhist-type person. I'm just here right now, and I don't think about what's going to happen a hundred years from now. I try to concentrate on what's going on right now. But I'm really trying to run this company like it is going to be here a hundred years from now. That's what's important.
Doing risk sport had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you're right on the edge, but you don't go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means.
Growth isn't central at all, because I'm trying to run this company as if it's going to be here a hundred years from now. And if you take where we are today and add 15% growth, like public companies need to have for their stock to stay up in value, I'd be a multi-trillion-dollar company in 40 years. Which is impossible, of course.
Doing risk sports had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you're right on the edge, but you don't go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. The same is true for a business. The sooner a company tries to be what it is not, the sooner it tries to 'have it all,' the sooner it will die.
...it's always been difficult for us to lead an examined life as a corporation. I've always felt like a company has the responsibility to not wait for the government to tell it what to do, or to wait for the consumer to tell it what to do, but as soon as it finds out it's doing something wrong, stop doing it.
When I die and go to hell, the devil is going to make me the marketing director for a cola company. I'll be in charge of trying to sell a product that no one needs, is identical to its competition, and can't be sold on its merits. I'd be competing head-on in the cola wars, on price, distribution, advertising, and promotion, which would indeed be hell for me. Remember, I'm the kid who couldn't play competitive games. I'd much rather design and sell products so good and unique that they have no competition.
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While our managers debated what steps to take to address the sales and cash-flow crisis, I began to lead week-long employee seminars in what we called Philosophies. We'd take a busload at a time to places like Yosemite or the Marin Headlands above San Francisco, camp out, and gather under the trees to talk. The goal was to teach every employee in the company our business and environmental ethics and values.
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I took a dozen of our top managers to Argentina, to the windswept mountains of the real Patagonia, for a walkabout. In the course of roaming around those wild lands, we asked ourselves why we were in business and what kind of business we wanted Patagonia to be. A billion-dollar company? Okay, but not if it meant we had to make products we couldn't be proud of. And we discussed what we could do to help stem the environmental harm we caused as a company. We talked about the values we had in common, and the shared culture that had brought everyone to Patagonia, Inc., and not another company.
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...we've teamed up with some Japanese companies to, basically by 2010, make all our clothing out of recycled and recyclable fibers. And we're going to accept ownership of our products from birth to birth. So if you buy a jacket from us, or a shirt ,or a pair of pants, when you're done with it, you can give it back to us and we'll make more shirts and pants out of it.
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What they don't realize is that I'm not in the business to make clothes. I'm not in the business to make more money for myself, for Christ's sake. This is the reason Patagonia exists - to put into action the recommendations I read about in books to avoid environmental collapse. That's the reason I'm in business - to try to clean up our own act, and try to influence other companies to do the right thing, and try to influence our customers to do the right thing. So we're not going to change.
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I never wanted to be a businessman; I was a craftsman and good at working with my hands. At some point, I decided that this company is my best resource. Patagonia now exists to put into practice all the things that smart people are saying we have to do not only to save the planet but to save the economy.
You can solo-climb Everest without using oxygen or you can pay guides and Sherpas to carry your loads, put ladders across crevasses, lay in 6,000 feet of fixed ropes, and have one Sherpa pulling you and another pushing you. ... The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won't happen if you compromise away the entire process.
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We grow by letting the customer tell us. So when the customer tells us that they're frustrated, that they just got their catalogue and we're already out of a product they wanted, then it tells me that we're not making enough. We let the customer tell us instead of creating an artificial demand for our products. Any time you're making products that people don't need, you're at the mercy of the economy, you're at the mercy of whatever is going on. So we tried to avoid that situation.
Who are businesses really responsible to? Their customers? Shareholders? Employees? We would argue that it's none of the above. Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy environment there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers and no business.
Just why is Yosemite climbing so different ? Why does it have techniques, ethics and equipment all of its own ? The basic reason lies in the rock itself. Nowhere else in the world is the rock so exfoliated, so glacier-polished and so devoid of handholds. All of the climbing lines follow vertical crack systems. Every piton crack, every handhold is a vertical one. Special techniques and equipment have evolved through absolute necessity.
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Personally, I would rather climb in the high mountains. I have always abhorred the tremendous heat, the dirt-filled cracks, the ant-covered foul-smelling trees and bushes which cover the cliffs, the filth and noise of Camp 4 (the climbers' campground), and worst of all, the multitudes of tourists which abound during the weekends and summer months.
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