BBD CEO Summit – Casey Sheahan (Patagonia)

Casey Sheahan is the CEO of Patagonia, the apparel company with a conscience. He was introduced by Jeremy Moon from Icebreaker who is a big fan of the company. (When living in the US a friend and I used to call Patagonia Patagucci – due to the price of their clothing. Despite that I still managed to end up with far too many pieces and loved them on my motorcycle travels. These days I am overloaded with Icebreaker stuff, which is even better.)

(We are a secular society, and Casey started with a deep breathing and contemplation exercise that I struggled with – it ended with ‘think about whoever you believe is responsive for this great natural abundance.)

Being happy

When you are happy, your customers, employees, vendors are happy. That’s conscious capitalism. Patagonia are based in Ventura, CA, a great place to work with surf, solar panels and so on. He really enjoys going there (commutes from Colorado), and stil does after 7 years. Their receptionist is a former surf champion and frisbee dude, and sets the vibe of the place. They have a childcare center on the site, and the 75 kids voices permeate the building. (This is awesome – especially when you consider the teddy bear story. ) This all stems from the (married) founders own philosophies. The child care is certainly transformative – helping attract and retain awesome women in particular.  Yvon Chouinard, the other founder, at 73, still turns up to the office 6 months a year. Patagonia’s mission is very well put, and known by it seems all employees.

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

The are trying to get more companies to be more like them (the inspire part), and help get a common understanding on what business should be. (They are succeeding) Patagonia is expanding globally, but rather than cookie cutter stores they use old spaces rather than use new stores. You get what you intend to do.

Patagonia grow organically, within their means, taking inspiration from how trees grow. They adapt their growth approach to the economy, growing more in boom times, and less in quiet times. They are passionate about the products, placing incredible attention to detail. When designing they take things away until there is nothing left but product.

Patagonia were early adopters (or inventors perhaps) of recycling soda bottles into fleeces. They work hard to reduce packaging volume and waste. Back in 1995 they adopted an organic-only approach to cotton and in 2004 they commenced a recycling program – customers could bring back polypropylene clothing and it would be recycled.

As a company they look at being responsible to minimise their impact on their planet, each decision, each day. It can become a game with an example of a Tokyo store tracking and trying to reduce power to zero. Gore(tex) lasts forever in landfill, and so they worked with an outside firm to develop a new process for Patagonia and Gore.

They seek to minimise environmental harm, and embrace an open approach to information on how they ship products. They publish this as the footprint chronicles, also providing information and leadership on the field. On openness (from a video) “If we started to squirm in our chairs …we were probably hitting the right point.” They show, for example, good visibility on the offshore factories where the products are made.

They don’t have a great wool story versus Icebreaker, so went to Southern Argentina to look for a merino story. They saw that herding there actually helped plants regenerate quickly, and are launching it in socks soon. (Sounds a bit pushed). Like icebreaker they will track the source, even down to the individual animal. Japanese are the toughest consumers, demanding visibility to sources of food and water.

Common Threads initiative is aimed at asking consumers to look at consuming less. Be aware of your purchase decisions, if worn out repair, sell on eBay but fundamentally buy less stuff. “Consume not what we vaguely want, but what we need.” 25000 people have taken a pledge on this.

Patagonia ran a now well-known advertisement “don’t buy this jacket” on Thanksgiving Friday, promoting purchasing less products. Perversely their sales went up.

Founder Yvon Chouinard is still an evangelist for Patagonia’s approach. (I missed this but I thin he was responsible for…) Wal*mart saw what was happening, listened, and started making internal moves to be more sustainable. They began asking suppliers to reduce packaging and so on, which has had a profound roll-on effect through industry.

Patagonia’s own factories are changing too. One in Vietnam is opened up to the outside. “You can’t make a Ferrari in a GM factory – Jef Stokes, President Maxport (video)”. Jef went on to say they we should have a right to know how our products are built.

Patagonia gets 1000 applications for every job – from disaffected MBAs looking for the value based mission, to surfers, climbers and fly fishermen and environmentalists. College kids, millenials are fired up about the environment and will do something about it. (Something I was chatting about earlier – the new generation natively get climate change and sustainability, so that will be solved eventually. The issue is getting the older folks to get it now.) 

On customers and sustainability – it’s Lennon and McCartney, we have to work together on this.

All up – I’m a big Patagonia fan, and this resonated with everything I’ve seen and heard about them to date. We can all learn from them.

Published by Lance Wiggs


One reply on “BBD CEO Summit – Casey Sheahan (Patagonia)”

  1. Lance, I will never sideways glance at you typing furiously during a speech again. Thanks for all these notes, you’ve increased the value of my reading material all week.


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