Patagonia: Going its Own Way.


A few months ago I took a trip to visit Patagonia to get a look at the Ventura-based brand’s new Legacy Collection capsule. I also got a chance to see a lot of awesome archival Patagonia stuff, which was worth the trip right there. But what I really learned that day (which I spoke a bit about in my previous post about the company), was how thought-provoking it was to see the Patagonia culture first hand. Being there and learning about the company’s values pushed me to think long and hard about my own values and to think about how a company can find success through two simple ideas: 1. Be committed to your values (act accordingly) and 2. Doing things differently can be the key to success.

These aren’t the only keys to Patagonia’s success, but they are the things that stand out to me. While I went to Ventura specifically to look at a clothing collection, I left with much more than just photos of the archival products (though that stuff is great as you can see below). I walked away with my mind racing, thinking about how to live my life, how to run a business and how to generally be happy. This year I have also spent time at Nike, Dreamworks, Google and various other large and small companies – all the while thinking about the role a company’s culture can impact personal success and overall happiness. Having worked for myself for the past 9 years I’ve pushed hard to build a successful professional life. At the same time, I’ve worked hard to take the time to actually enjoy my life and be happy. This was possible sometimes, and at other times it was completely impossible. But all of this energy directed at finding happiness and success at work and outside of work made be a strong believer in the importance of a positive culture.




Patagonia_05 Patagonia_03

Malloy brothers
A random gathering of pro surfers and filmmakers including the Malloy brothers.


Earlier in the year I was having breakfast with my friend from San Francisco and he was telling me about how the author Matthew Kelly came to speak to his company and what a profound affect the author and his book had on his outlook towards work and life. After that conversation, interested in my own relationship with work (and also considering my role as a business owner) I bought the book and read it. There’s a lot to think about in there, but the main take away is that if you are happy with what you do for work, then that will play a major role in how you feel about your personal life. It’s not about balance per se, it’s about finding satisfaction in both your personal and professional life.

There’s a direct line between this type of thinking and the culture at Patagonia. It’s the main point in Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing. There’s also something to just having a good culture like Patagonia does. Also, it’s important to not confuse culture with free snacks and the crazy generous office perks (though, that stuff is admittedly nice), but I bet you at the end of the day people could give two shits about a bunch of free snacks and all the other random stuff tech companies do. It seems to me that people only really want a few simple things: To be empowered, to be trusted and finally to be challenged by the work. Compensation of course plays a factor and benefits matter, but I don’t believe they aren’t the truly important things when it comes to happiness and satisfaction. If you work somewhere that checks all of these boxes, chances are you have a good thing going for you. I don’t want to over simplify, but all of my thinking (along with some insight from Yvon & Matthew Kelly’s books) about work, life, success and happiness keep coming back to those three points.

At the end of the day, clothes are an important part of my life, but they aren’t the key to my overall happiness. My guess is that is how many of the people at Patagonia feel. Clothing can make the experience better, but it’s not the experience.




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Comments on “Patagonia: Going its Own Way.

    William Lenehan on September 27, 2013 1:38 PM:


    WHat is the book at the bottom of the post. Looks fantastic, is it available to the public?


    Jeff on September 27, 2013 1:58 PM:

    Great post. The only point I would add, a fourth to your three, would be to care about what you do. The first three, empowerment, trust, and challenge, can keep you entertained, but also may keep you hollow. If you are lucky enough to find that fourth in your job then you have it great. Running your own shop, as you do, you should be guiding yourself off those four tenets and based on your posts you are doing it well.


    Joel Barde on September 27, 2013 8:51 PM:

    (EDITED VERSION OF LAST POST: Please Post, if you decide to)

    Very nice! To be perfectly frank, I’m a little surprised to read something like this on ACL, given the fact that the majority of items featured are expensive. So congrats on this, an eloquent and thoughtful explanation on how you value work satisfaction over a pay check.

    I do, though, think that the men’s wear world/blogosphere as a whole signals a very different message. The one I read is that having a lot of pretty things and clothes will translate into a happy, elegant life. As someone whose wrestled with that notion most of my life – and still, to be honest, not come to a definitive answer – I think that that thinking can be quite harmful, can lead people down career paths that they might not enjoy but result in the kind of paychecks that can purchase Barbour, Rolex, Wings and Horns (Sp.?).

    At the end of the day, though, your list seems smart to me. To be empowered, trusted, and challenged – those should be the goals of one’s career. The frivolous – and fun? – stuff will hopefully follow.

    Derrik Ollar on September 28, 2013 2:43 AM:

    I personally like to wrestle with these same ideas as I examine my own life on occasion. All of the above points are valid in my own thinking, however, my own thoughts have taken me even further than the empowered, trusted, and challenged trilogy.

    I’ve owned my own business for the last 2 decades, and feel a deep bond (a brotherly love, if you will), for both my employees and my clients. I also truly believe that I add value to other people’s lives. Lastly, for me, it would all be for not if I didn’t feel like I was adding to both the legacy of my clients lives and to my own.

    Perhaps I have over-pondered on this subject, but then, I probably have a couple decades on most of you young men, so I’ve simply had more time to think about it. This is just the 2 cents of a seasoned man, experienced business owner, and father of 4 young adults, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve added something of value to this discussion and to your own personal thinking too.

    Phinney Baxter White on September 28, 2013 9:53 AM:

    This is a great post!
    As a very small business owner and product designer the take away, for me, is to go with your instinct regardless of precedent.
    Well done ACL!. And Thanks Yvon– my fellow Mainer!

    Matthew Pike on September 28, 2013 11:04 AM:

    A very well written, thought-provoking post Michael. I hadn’t forgotten the first post you did on Patagonia, that really stuck with me, but one takes it a little further and their some real aspiration to this. Being only at the start of my career, well still trying to find it I think it would be very smart to get this book.

    Really excellent post.

    Rick on September 28, 2013 2:52 PM:

    Well said….

    chris on September 30, 2013 5:08 PM:

    I would first give Patagonia a simple test before I applied to them.
    Do they make you piss in a cup?
    Do they look at your credit score before hiring you?
    The answer reveals what they’re really like

    Scott on October 3, 2013 10:28 PM:

    @William Lenehan Those are actually bound versions of Patagonia catalogs…the reference archive (disclosure…I was a Photo Editor at Patagonia for several years…those books were sort of Bibles). Best job I’ve ever had.

    @chris No piss, no credit checks…at least not 15 years ago! Fitting in with the ‘family’ was important, though. Paraphrasing YC…”it’s easier to teach a climber to sell clothes than it is to teach a salesman to climb”.

    Franz on October 5, 2013 12:22 PM:

    The thousand pound gorilla in the room is that there are so few companies like Patagonia. The majority of work places are dysfunctional and unhealthy. So, the real crux for most people is to figure out how is survive in a soul-less toxic environment and not get crushed. That may be why the term work-life balance is relevant, because feeling powerless to change their work environment, but still understanding the commitment that work requires, people seek “balance” in the rest of their lives. I may be stretching it a bit, but feeling unable to change one environment, it seems natural that we would turn to something we have more control over.

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