Patagonia: Fair Trade Clothing Impacting Livelihoods

Photo: @_timdavis_ @patagonia

Photo: @_timdavis_ @patagonia

I recently met Doug Freeman, Chief Operating Officer at Patagonia. Thanks, Wharton Social Impact Club for organizing! Here are a few insights from the talk.

The Company
Patagonia is one of the world's leading sustainable brands. As a Public Benefit Corporation (B Corp), it balances sales, quality, and environmental and social responsibility. It is mostly known for its focus on the environment. It pioneered production of fleece from recycled soda bottles in 1993. It also donates 1% of sales to environmental grassroots organizations. On Black Friday this year, it vowed to donate 100% of sales to environmental causes. The result? $10 million on that day alone. 

The approach to social responsibility is also amazing. Patagonia strives to be transparent about its supply chain. The Footprint Chronicles share details about the farms, textile mills, and sewing factories they contract. This information is in the product page online, so you're able to understand the entire supply chain of products you seek to buy. 

Fair Trade Certified Program
My biggest takeaway from the talk was about the Fair Trade Certified Program, which has been progressing rapidly in the past three years. 

Like all other companies who sell Fair Trade Certified products, Patagonia contracts exclusively with factories who abide by safe working conditions and fair labor practices. What's unique about the program is that Patagonia pays a premium for each Fair Trade Certified garment. The extra money goes into a fund managed by the workers, and they decide how to spend it. 

The ultimate goal is to improve worker's livelihoods. As of May 2016, $430K have been paid out for the benefit of 7,000 workers. A factory in Sri Lanka used the extra funds to build a free early childhood education center. Another decided to buy toiletries for health and personal care.

The progress of Fair Trade clothing items has been quick. The program began in 2014 with just 10 Fair Trade clothing styles. Two years later, there are now 192 styles. By the end of next year, Patagonia plans to have 300 Fair Trade styles.

There's much more to say about Patagonia. Patagonia Provisions is an initiative for food products and Patagonia Works is the venture funding arm. Needles to say, Patagonia is a company to admire. It proves that doing business and doing good can coexist at a large-scale.

Anairis Hinojosa