Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has given away his multi-billion dollar company and diverted his profits to the fight against climate change.
The news marks a fitting end to the pioneering mountaineer’s unconventional business career. As one of the best-known brands for outdoor clothing and equipment, Patagonia could easily go public. Chouinard might also find a willing buyer. Or he could just retire, keep his property and keep the $3 billion business in the family.
Instead, Chouinard, 83, and his family are moving their stake in the company to Patagonia Purpose Trust and a nonprofit called Holdfast Collective, which will redirect the company’s annual profits toward environmental goals.
“Earth is now our sole shareholder”, Chouinard wrote in an open letter published on Wednesday. “Instead of taking value from nature and turning it into wealth for investors, we will use the wealth that Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”
Holdfast Collective is organized as a 501(c)4 corporation, according to The New York Times, who first reported the news. That structure has been criticized in recent years for allowing nonprofits to spend untaxed donations to influence politics while hiding donor names.
But the decision also reflects Chouinard’s open disdain for politicians he dismissed as “climate deniers”. During the 2020 elections, Patagonia sold clothes with tags that read “vote the bastards out”, referring to politicians who downplay the threat of climate change.
“You have the Koch family and the fossil fuel companies: they are going to influence the election,” Chouinard told Fast Company in a 2019 interview, “We need to do the same.”
Born to a French Canadian family in Maine, Chouinard grew up who want to be a trapper. He learned to navigate the mountains while hunting coots and rabbits with falcons. As a young man, he joined a trailblazing group of mountaineers in Yosemite National Park, where he rose to fame for a nine-day first ascent of the North American wall of El Capitán.
He entered the business world as a self-taught blacksmith who made hand-forged hooks — the nails climbers at the time used to support themselves while climbing vertical walls.
Despite a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist streak, Patagonia — its second major corporation — catapulted Chouinard into the billionaire class.
In recent years, however, he has sought more and more ways to use the business and profits to defend his lifelong love of the outdoors. Patagonia has bankrolled documentaries and books glorifying the virtues of wild fish and throwing an unflattering spotlight on the hatcheries that thin their genetics.
Arguing that organic isn’t doing enough to offset the extractive damage of industrial farming, Patagonia has embraced regenerative farming for both fiber and food products. The company has set itself an aggressive target to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Chouinard’s political leanings often affect the company in ways beyond environmental factors. After the Supreme Court revoked the federal right to abortion this summer, Patagonia proclaimed its policy of: rescuing workers arrested in protests.