Patagonia Tells Us Not to Buy Its Clothes


Sure, major brands like PepsiCo and the Gap are hopping on the eco-friendly bandwagon. But Patagonia’s “Common Threads” initiative is taking the “uber-eco” strategy to new levels.

The outdoorsy retailer launched its environmental initiative in 2005. It asked customers both in-store and through its monthly catalog to donate leftover polyester Capilene underwear for recycling into new clothing, by either mailing them to a service center or donating them at a Patagonia retailer. (Doing so saves 76% of CO2 emissions, as opposed to the 71% saved when using virgin polyester — which is honorable, though that really doesn’t sound like such big savings). In 2009, the program expanded to recycle 80% of its fleece, cotton and nylon clothing.

Now, Patagonia has announced that the “Common Threads” campaign will become a bit more…forceful – specifically, by telling consumers exactly what to buy in order to save Mother Earth. This includes warnings like “Don’t buy this jacket unless you really need it.” Yes, that’s right – Patagonia will put hangtags on its clothing telling you NOT to buy it.

The point of the tags, according to the company, is to discourage needless spending: “We want people to imagine our lives consuming less and living simpler lives based on what we need as opposed to what we want,” explained Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. The company will also fix minor problems like broken zippers for free as part of its Four R’s platform to reduce, repair, reuse and recycle.

Of course we applaud all efforts to reduce wasteful consumption. Plus it’s smart business — an overall message of eco-sustainability is good for the planet as a whole, and also has been shown to increase profits and brand loyalty.

But isn’t telling people NOT to buy your clothes a bit confusing to consumers? Does Patagonia really not want us to purchase its clothing? Such pronouncements teeter on the line between “honest advice” and “overly-strident reverse psychology.”

The company will reveal more information about the new platform and the challenges Patagonia faces in accomplishing its goals in this month’s catalog, set to arrive in mailboxes on November 15.