Patagonia Leads by Example in the Circular Economy


A rainbow of color punctuates Patagonia’s Worn Wear Instagram feed, where people proudly show off their outdoor clothing that has a renewed life after being repaired.  One mom brags about being able to have a child’s down jacket refilled after he picked many of the feathers out.  Jeans are receiving inner patches that no one will see.  A Worn Wear brand patch even adorns some items that were skillfully re-crafted by an official repair technician.  Many repairs are invisible to the naked eye, while some are intentionally artistic and add personality to the garment.

Across its social media platforms, the company is using both the #WornWear and #BetterThanNew hashtags to promote the concept.

This leadership in creating durable products and then encouraging customers to extend product life caught the attention of Ethical Corp. when it featured case studies of businesses demonstrating how to make a circular economy work.  The circular economy is a concept of doing business, ideally, with no waste and no pollution.  Simply put, this approach could keep us as a society from filling up so many landfills with disposable goods.

Could more manufacturers successfully sell the message to buy more, not less? Encourage customers to repair and reuse goods instead of replacing them?  Minimize use of natural resources?  Still maintain profitability?

Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, encourages a culture of people who consider themselves owners rather than consumers and take responsibility for making the company’s sporty, outdoor gear last as long as possible. She also encourages business thinking that supports the concept of goods made to last, not be replaced next year. Without this cultural shift, she warns of what she called “ecological bankruptcy.”

Ethical Corp. highlights Patagonia’s leadership in its case studies, which feature a total of eight companies that are contributing to a circular economy.  The report is a lead-up to the 15th annual Responsible Business Summit coming up in London in June.

The report notes, “Stronger sustainability performance is a crucial part of attracting younger customers and building brand loyalty among this demographic.”  Youthful customers are strongly identifying with business initiatives that show a sense of care for people and the planet.

Patagonia is receiving accolades for its Worn Wear program that includes instruction guides for repairing Patagonia goods, encourages customers to make items last longer, and facilitates reuse of items.  The company now boasts the largest garment-repair facility in North America, in Reno, Nevada.  Adding to the lore of outdoor sporting experiences, now the company can add the skillfully-woven stories of customers’ reuse of repaired garments to its narrative.

The Worn Wear system even allows for sales of gently-used and repaired secondhand clothing, making these goods available at a lower price point. Racks of perfectly-repaired Patagonia clothing entice shoppers during special promotions where they can sometimes trade in one item for another.

Patagonia is demonstrating that customer loyalty extends well beyond a short clothing lifespan and can even deepen when people want to keep their favorite jacket or jeans beyond a little wear-and-tear.  Voluntary recycling of Patagonia products is also offered as another customer service.

Unlike many manufacturers that warn you not to tamper with a product because it could void the warranty, Patagonia makes a point to say repairs will not void its quality guarantee.  Detailed repair guides suggest ways you could repair items yourself for little to no cost.  They’re as simple as “repairing a loop of loose stitching in a Patagonia nano puff jacket” or as complicated as how to install a new zipper in a jacket. If you prefer not to do it yourself, the option is available to send items in and pay a nominal cost for repairs.

Other companies featured as examples of the circular economy are Hewlett Packard, Jaguar Land Rover, British telecom BT Group, shipping company Maersk Line, fair-trade smartphone maker Fairphone, upcycling legend Terracycle, and eco-packaging firm Vegware.  Through these examples and practical advice, Ethical Corp. is offering fresh ideas on how even more industry players can become environmentally conscious about the way they do business.

More information about the upcoming Responsible Business Summit is available here.

Image credit: Flickr/Hajime NAKANO

Anne Brock

Anne Brock is a University of Missouri journalism alumna and television news producer. She blogs at about simple living and greener approaches to life for everyday families. She also freelances as a social media consultant and content creator.

Leave a Reply