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Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia

Most billionaires who get into philanthropy give away bits and pieces of their fortunes over many years. Yvon Chouinard decided to do it a little differently. He just said, “Here you go,” and handed his entire company, long-time fashion brand Patagonia, over to the Patagonia Purpose Trust. But long before this landmark move, Chouinard wasn’t behaving like a typical big-company CEO. After making a mark as a rock climber, Chouinard started selling hand-forged climbing gear back in 1957. In 1970, he began his forays into sports clothing, beginning with rugby shirts he imported from Scotland mainly because he found that they helped keep his neck from being chafed by the climbing sling when he was doing his own climbing. In 1973, he opened his first retail location in Ventura, CA, because it was close to his blacksmith shop and he was still hand-forging climbing gear and his clothing sales. By the mid-80s, Chouinard was firmly working in the clothing business, and by the early 2000s, the company had expanded its clothing line into other outdoor sports, notably surfing and hiking. Chouinard was still selling other products along with clothes, including climbing gear (no longer hand-forged, though), camping products, and even camp food. However, what put the company on the map was the sudden execu-boom of the 2010s when business executives everywhere just had to have a Patagonia fleece vest to wear on huge campuses where meetings were now commonly held outside. But back to Chouinard’s landmark ownership move.

Why They Made the Worthy 100: Well, if you donate your whole organization to a charitable trust and don’t make the Worthy 100, there’d be something wrong with the process. But even before this fantastic gesture, Patagonia under Chouinard had a history of giving back. One example is Chouinard’s penchant for environmental activism. In 1985, Chouinard was a founding member of the One Percent for the Planet organization, whose members pledge to contribute at least 1 percent of total revenue to environmental causes. In 2016, the company pledged to donate 100 percent of its Black Friday sales (a huge retail event for any consumer brand) to environmental causes, totaling over $10 million in donations. Chouinard even tipped his hat to ex-President Trump after his 2017 tax cuts for large businesses. Patagonia pledged to donate the money it saved through those cuts, another $10 million, to “groups committed to protecting air, land, water, and finding solutions to the climate crisis.” The company also boycotted the Outdoor Retailers trade show that year, which traditionally takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, because the state legislature was trying to transfer federally owned land to the state. Chouinard also spoke against Utah governor Gary Herbert asking then-President Trump to revoke the recently-designated Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. After it turned out Patagonia wasn’t the only business taking this stance, the trade show event management company, Emerald Expositions, decided to dump Utah in favor of another state for its next show. But that didn’t end the Bears Ears conflict. In late 2017, Patagonia joined the long line of suits against that administration contending that the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Antiquities Act of 1906 did not empower a a current President to reverse the monument designations of a previous one. That’s a long history of activism, especially considering that we’re talking about a company as well as a man. And now, in 2022, Chouinard has made sure the company he founded will always be involved in giving back to the environment and the outdoors he loves so much. 

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