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For store manager, Jordan Hart, working for Patagonia is about raising the bar for what it means to be a responsible company.

Aug 12, 2015

Patagonia is a Business With A Soul

"We have a different way of doing business than most companies," Jordan Hart, the manager of Patagonia Honolulu's storefront, explains to us from the bustling showroom on Ward Avenue.

"We feel that we have a social and economic responsibility to the planet and our customers." Around us, the store is abuzz with shoppers eagerly checking out a mix of items including recycled board shorts and organic cotton tees. "We've built a customer base out of people who really appreciate our commitment to responsibility."

In the 1960s, Southern California's Yvon Chouinard, an avid hiker and outdoorsman, transitioned his business of making hiking equipment into creating an apparel line, which he named Patagonia. From the beginnings of his business, Chouinard placed a premium on environmental responsibility and created a workspace that allowed employees more freedom. At the time, this was a revolutionary way to run a business. With their strong ties to the environment, Patagonia instituted a policy that committed one percent of its sales or 10 percent of its profits to protecting the environment.

Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard, penned an influential book entitled "Let My People Go Surfing" describing the brand's ethos.

"I've been working with Patagonia for nearly five years now and I can tell you that it is truly a special company," adds Hart. "We really try and take care of our people. For instance, a lot of us take surf breaks at lunch. If the waves are really good down at Kewalos or Bowls and you surf for longer than your lunch break, it's not a big deal at all. It's what makes Patagonia special."

Built for adventurers, Patagonia's places a premium on durability and sustainability for all of their products.

While most retail shops would clamor at the prospect of selling new products, Patagonia does things their own way. Recently, at their Honolulu location, they've hosted a board swap where they invited surfers looking to buy and sell used boards into their showroom. But here's the best part: they didn't take any money for it. To shine more light on the company's commitment to running a business in a financially and environmentally responsible way, they've teamed up with a local solar power firm, Kinaole Capital, in an effort to encourage more people in Hawai'i to go solar as well.

Even the art installations, like this one made from salvaged surfboard fins, have a story to tell.

When it comes to producing quality gear, each of the company's products—whether it's a simple pair of boardshorts or a high-tech hiking jacket meant for summiting Everest—undergoes rigorous scrutiny. Quality and durability, are placed on pedestals. When it comes to sustainability component of running a business, Hart is quick to describe one of Patagonia's most interesting campaigns. It's called Common Threads, and under the program, customers can return old Patagonia products to their brand's stores, where it will eventually be recycled. If there's not a Patagonia store in your neighborhood, you can mail in your old clothing or gear back to Patagonia (they'll even foot the bill for shipping) to be recycled. To date, they've recycled more than 82 tons of clothing through this initiative.

In the business world, Patagonia marches to the beat of their own drum and the real world is better for it.

Just a few minutes of chatting with Hart and it's clear that there really is something undeniably honest and sincere about the brand. They know that being a responsible business—whether that's to their employees, the people that make their products, or the planet as a whole—is of the utmost of importance. But they also know that it's impossible to do it all perfectly. The company's website summed it up best: "In the end, we may never be completely responsible. We have a long way to go and we don't have a map – but we do have a way to read the terrain and to take the next step, and then the next."

That's the Patagonia way of doing business.

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