Patagonia: Challenging Consumerism through Refusal to Co-brand Apparel

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: June 22, 2023
Length: 26 pages
Product ID#: 8-761-888

Core Disciplines: Marketing/Sales, Social Impact, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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Patagonia has long been a revered company in the world of outdoor gear, and environmental and social sustainability. Known for pushing the bounds of what it means to be a mission-driven organization, the company has challenged the status quo of consumerism. A key initiative early on in Patagonia’s journey was its now-famous Common Threads Initiative and accompanying ad campaign to inspire customers to reduce unnecessary consumption. (Ironically, the extraordinary “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad was followed by increased sales.) Patagonia followed that with another program contrary to the typical clothing business: the company began providing significant resources for responsible care, repair, reuse and resale, and recycling at the end of a garment’s life.

Patagonia further questioned consumerism with a form of refusal. In April 2019, it stopped co-branding apparel with companies and organizations in certain industries, including finance. In April 2021, Patagonia took this policy one step further and announced it would no longer allow any companies’ logos to be embroidered on its clothing. The company said non-removable logos reduced the lifespan of clothing because such garments are less likely to be worn beyond the time of employment, regifted, or passed on to someone else.

This case takes place in May 2023, a few years after the new logo policy was announced. Students assume the role of the fictional vice president of global sales to develop a sales strategy based on the impact of Patagonia’s  business model that includes a unique refusal strategy.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Compare and contrast Patagonia’s business model and how it differs from its competitors’.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of “unsustainable” versus “responsible” or “sustainable” consumption.
  • Explore the pros and cons of refusal as a business strategy and identify businesses/companies for which it might work, and how it can be implemented without significantly depressing the bottom line.
  • Understand why and how Patagonia consistently leads in thinking and in practice with respect to its sustainable business decisions and stakeholder capitalism initiatives.
  • Assess the core concepts of shareholder capitalism and environmental sustainability and the inherent tension between them.
  • Analyze the tradeoffs between shareholder and stakeholder capitalism, and how a company’s status as private or public can influence such decisions.