Circular economy

Patagonia: don’t buy our jackets, fix the old ones!

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

The CEO of the famous brand writes an open letter to customers encouraging them to take up needle and thread and fix their garments by themselves.

Needle and thread will save the planet. This idea comes not from some club of eighty-years-old grannies, but from Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia, the technical sportswear giant. Instead of trying to sell more garments, the company wants to teach its customers how to fix them, so they last for longer.

Marcario posted a long letter on the company’s website, saying that as the holiday season approaches, we all need to become radical environmentalists. “This sounds like a big leap – writes Marcario – but it’s not. All you need is a sewing kit and a set of repair instructions. As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer. This simple act of extending the life of our garments through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time – thereby avoiding the CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage required to build it.”

Bizarre declarations, considering that usually the job of a CEO is to maximize the company’s revenues by creating needs that can be fulfilled with the purchase of the company’s products. The case of Patagonia is an interesting marketing experiment: don’t buy our latest models, but give us your trust, because not only do we sell you a product that lasts through time, but also we teach you how to make it last even longer. Marcario underlines that our lives depend on a variety of products that harm the environment one way or another, even Patagonia’s products, in spite of all the efforts made to realized them in an environmental friendly way.

“This holiday season – continues Marcario – we’ve partnered with iFixit to publish more than 40 free repair guides for Patagonia products on our website. We go to great lengths to provide our customers with opportunities to fix their gear themselves, find it a new home or recycle it if necessary.” Patagonia operates the largest garment repair facility in North America, with more than 40,000 individual repairs every year, and its retail staff is trained to handle simple repair jobs.

Although uncommon, the case of Patagonia is not isolated: Marcario cites the examples of Ricoh, DeWalt, Caterpillar and Lenovo, which have made repair and remanufacturing a staple of their business model. The problem is that most producers don’t sustain this kind of policies, on the contrary, they sometimes try to hinder this virtuous cycle, realizing cheap goods that break easily and need to be replaced frequently, and warning customers that doing repairs by themselves will void the garments’ warranty. “This should be considered unacceptable given the environmental crisis we face – sustains Marcario – but instead, planned obsolescence is celebrated as smart marketing.”

There is also a cultural problem to be considered: customers are often obsessed by the search for the cheapest price or the latest model, and they keep buying new things without even thinking of the possibility of repairing the old ones.

It really looks like the revolution of the circular economy sometimes hides in the most unexpected places, such as haberdasheries: from obsolete stores, in the collective imaginary they could become the new Silicon Valley of the environment.

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