Vincent Stanley, co-authored The Responsible Company (with Yvon Chouinard) and has been with Patagonia since its beginning in 1973, holding key executive roles as head of sales or marketing. He’s widely regarded as Patagonia’s long-time chief storyteller.
Vincent recently visited Australia for Retail Week and shared some unique insights on how Patagonia helped forge a social conscience which is a hot topic in the retail sector at the moment, especially as consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of what they buy and consume. Now, more than ever, retailers’ supply chains are under the microscope and shoppers are demanding to know the exact origins of their product
But long before ‘corporate social responsibility’ became a buzzword, saving the planet has been at the heart of Patagonia. From their first involvement in a grassroots initiative to help save a local surf break in the 70s to developing fleece jackets made from recycled plastic, Patagonia’s purpose around helping the environment has always been clear. It’s campaign Big Oil Don’t Surf and support for the campaign to Fight for The Bight here in Australia has resonated with Australians in a big way.
Businesses around the world are considering ways in which to find their purpose and help their communities – it’s been dubbed “the new retail”.
“In a time of accelerated environmental and social crisis, each business must examine its own DNA, how it is unique and identify how its purpose can align with social and environmental good. What we make has to be beneficial,” explains Vincent Stanley.
“At the same time, we all need to identify what practices in our supply chain need to be changed and how we are to go about it. What we make has to be made in a responsible way. Purpose is outward looking: how do we relate to the world in a good way (for the benefit of our customers, employees, communities, the natural world? Transparency is the tool by which we examine the hidden practices done in our name in the supply chain and work for beneficial social and environmental results.”
According to Stanley, Patagonia stores are not only a place for customers to buy products, but a place for the community to meet, have conversations and share similar values. For example, one of the ways that Patagonia encourages its customers to recycle is through its Worn Wear Program. Customers can visit a Worn Wear Repair Hub or drop off their items of clothing in need of repair at any store at no cost. The staff will even fix clothing from other brands for a small fee.
It’s imperative that in order to move into the future, retailers need to listen to the changing needs of their employees and customers, Stanley advises.
“There is a big shift, especially among millennials and those even younger, toward living and working toward their values. We think that shift will grow more pronounced over time as the social and environmental challenges become more pronounced,” he says.
“This will put increasing pressure on retailers to engage on the basis of shared values rather than simple appetite for the new. The new must reflect the realities and answer the problems of our time.”
ASBMAG caught up with Vincent to learn more about how Patagonia are leading the transformation to the way we shop, and the reasons we shop.
ASB MAGAZINE: Welcome Vincent How many times have you been to Australia?
This is my second trip. I grew up in San Francisco next door to an Australian family who were good friends to us. So, Australia always had a special meaning for me, but I only made it here the first time a year and a half ago.
ASB MAGAZINE: What brings you here?
I spoke at Inside Retail but also to gatherings of the B Corp community in Sydney and Melbourne as well as some business groups organized by Ernst & Young and of course with our own store and office staff.
ASB MAGAZINE: In 2008, you co-authored The Responsible Company, helped develop the Footprint Chronicles, the Common Threads Partnership and Patagonia Books. You’re a fellow at the Yale Center for Business and Environment. Did ‘young’ Vincent ever think he’d have such an important and prestigious title? [Director of Philosophy, Patagonia USA]
Working with students at Yale’s environmental and management schools would have been a surprise, but I was with Patagonia at its inception and so grandly titled even at 21. We all could call ourselves anything we liked!
ASB MAGAZINE: As a global leader, there must be enormous responsibility that comes from being THE most responsible company on the planet?
One ryokan in Japan has been owned by the same family for 800 years, keeping alive and healthy the single spring that is the source of its business. We haven’t yet passed the test of time for most responsible company on the planet, but we have at least defined our responsibilities, articulated them and, increasingly over the past two decades, acted on them.
It is quite humbling to have our work so widely recognized. And it is encouraging to see so many young entrepreneurs who recognize the gathering storm of the environmental and social crisis and want to use their business acumen to help restore human communities to health and bring natural systems back to life.
ASB MAGAZINE: The theme of Retail Week is Next Generation Retail – The Future Customer. Describe Patagonia’s current and future customer? Are they the same?
Peter Calthorpe has argued that the information economy, which in our lifetime displaced the mass-market economy, would evolve into an ecological economy. The information economy has given rise to diverse identities and an abundance of cheap and disposable consumer goods. At the end of the day it enriches fewer people than the mass economy did and provides a living wage to a sizeable minority of people, while marginalizing the less educated within and outside the cities. The acceleration of this economy has impoverished all the natural systems that support life, by cooking the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans, drawing down aquifers, toxifying our rivers and decertifying farmland. So, the transition to an ecological economy is a must.
It is harder for many older customers to come to accept this new reality, but for the Millennials and Generation Z, it is old news, and a prolonged assault on the most basic human values of dignity, fairness and stewardship. These are the customers who will support a transition to an economy that works for the well-being of all and for the capacity of nature to regenerate.
ASB MAGAZINE: You’ve been to Oz twice what are you seeing at Oz retail (and wider APAC region) that makes it stand apart from other territories? What retailers ‘globally’ do you see at the forefront of change.
I’m encouraged by the localism here and the Australian love of the smaller scale. Oz has the world’s most vibrant, fastest growing B Corp community outside the US. I love the work of Small Giants and Dumbofeather Magazine, of the brilliant regenerative farmer Charles Massy, the soulful surfer Dave Rastovich, and the imaginative everyday work of our own remarkable local team.
ASB MAGAZINE: There’s been widespread protest to drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. As a student of history and a professor of Philosophy, what does it mean for Patagonia to stand arm in arm with this movement? Why do surfers lead the change…?
Surfers lead the change because they feel the ecological hurt first and keenly, when they lose a break to development or fall sick from polluted water. It’s been heartening to see the incredible response against drilling in the Bight from Australian surfers and non-surfers alike. Patagonia is telling the story globally.
ASB MAGAZINE: Does the leadership team at Patagonia support you unequivocally in everything you do? Aside Yvon and (CEO) Rose Marcario you are next in line as Patagonia’s spiritual leader? Where do you clash on ideological grounds?
Several of us go around speaking on behalf of the company’s values and actions, working with students and like-minded companies. We’re all aligned as a culture on values. We’re quite capable of arguing among ourselves over every line of copy that goes into an ad or essay, but the final result usually represents the alchemy of collaboration and speaks with a single voice.
ASB MAGAZINE: Can you update us on your conversations with the White House and President Trump and his plans to Make America Great Again? 🙂
Several of us who sued the administration over the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments have joined legal forces; the case is making its way through the courts.
*Thank-you Vincent and Patagonia (AUS)