And the original source material for the products he made, came from the dumpsters he was diving in.
The Bizarre Beginning of the Patagonia Brand
From it’s very beginning, the brand never really cared about being cool or even making money. Instead, it focused on making gear for the sport they loved while being environmentally responsible. Today they’ve become a status symbol for the biggest and richest companies in the world.
Here’s the story of how the Patagonia company was born…
Patagonia’s Roots in Black Smithery, Falconry, and Rock-Climbing…
Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard was born in 1938 in Lisbon , Maine and raised in a French-Canadian community that spoke little English.
His father, a hard working blue collar man, moved the family to Burbank CA when Yvon was only 8 years old. An experience that turned out to be a pretty shitty one for little Yvon.
Shitty because Yvon was bullied at school for not being able to speak English. He was also the smallest kid in his class which didn’t help his position. Not knowing what to do, Yvon would just simply run away. He spent most of his time alone in the wilderness. Hunting and fishing by himself.
Then one day, Yvon discovered, of all things, falconry…
He joined a local falconry club where he made friends and learned how to train hawks and falcons. For the first time, Yvon belonged to something.
One of the members, Don Prentice, was a mountain climber who trained the club how to rappel down cliffs to in order to access falcon nest located high up on mountain rock ledges.
So What’s the Blacksmith Connection?
The club became obsessed with the sport. Traveling all over the country rappelling down America’s tallest cliffs. They did it for the most part, without any gear…
Eventually the group turned their attention from rappelling to climbing. Were they’re lack of equipment became problematic (opposed to repelling down, climbing up requires a lot more than a rope).
With only 200 mountain climbers in those days and no store to provide their climbing gear, the group was forced to make their own in the early days of the sport. One of those items were pitons (the stakes mountain climbers hammer into the rock face to clip onto for, “safety”).
“Hey Mountain Climbers, Clean Up Your Shit!”
The problem with the original pitons was they were permanent. Climbers would just leave the stakes poking out of the side of the mountain for others to use later on…It became an eyesore and Yvon wasn’t having it.
Yvon taught himself how to be a blacksmith (in a chicken coop in his parents backyard) where he invented the first sets of removable pitons, changing the sport forever. They even turned out to be stronger and more reliable than the permanent European pitons they originally used.
He didn’t even charge his friends for them in the beginning. He would just hand them to other climbers to help clean up the mountain side. They were an instant success.
From Climbing Gear to Clothing Icon…
Pategonia eventually got into the clothing business after Yvon took a climbing trip to Scotland where he bought a Rugby shirt because the material looked tough enough to climb a mountain in (and it looked cool). Plus he thought the collar would help keep the climbing ropes away from his neck.
Climbing in his Rugby shirt back in the states, Yvonn stuck out like a sore thumb in his flamboyant colored shirt. In a good way. Other climbers asked where they could get a “fancy colorful climbing shirt”.
Here’s a review of some of the original 1980s rugby shirts they launched with:
So Yvon licensed a series of durable and colorful rugby (I mean climbing) shirts. They sold like hot cakes…
But while the clothing brand famously went through many ups and downs over the years, Patagonia today is one of the most recognized clothing brands on the planet.
All thanks to a badass little kid who climbed his way up in life on his own terms.
Watch for the full story…