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I never wanted to be a conventional businessman. I liked climbing rocks, not corporate ladders. I never set out to be a businessman. I never liked authority. I was a rock climber. Back when I started climbing at the age of 19, the gear was poor quality.
The pitons—the metal spikes you drive into cracks—were made of soft iron and were designed to be used once and left in place. The attitude back then was about dominating the mountains, conquering them and leaving all your gear behind to make it easier for the next party. I had a different ambition.
I wanted to climb without leaving a trace so that the next party and every party after that could experience the climb as I had—in its natural state. To do that, I needed a new kind of piton that you could remove and reuse over and over as you ascended.
Since nothing like that existed at the time, I decided to design it myself. They were the first of their kind, designed for a new style of climbing. I called my fledgling company Chouinard Equipment. Initially, I was just a craftsman making climbing gear for myself and my friends.
That evolved into making better crampons—the metal spikes on climbing boots—and better ice axes. With climbing, the better the tool, the better your chance of coming home in one piece.
The quality of the materials and design—how the tool actually functioned in the field—was everything. People noticed, and by Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing equipment in the United States.
At that time, we were on the cutting edge of climbing. Some of the climbs we were doing in Yosemite National Park were harder than any rock climbs ever done in the world.
Being on the cutting edge meant that we were not following the market. For example, when I started coming out with new tools for ice climbing, people had no idea how to use them, and so I began writing a book about it.
The Austrians and Germans had different techniques than the French and the Scottish. I ran around the world and studied all the different techniques so that I could bring everything together in one unified method.
Inon my way home from climbing in Scotland, I bought a rugby shirt—a blue one with yellow and red stripes. Functionally, I thought it would be a great climbing shirt. At that time, American sportswear was basically gray sweatpants and sweatshirts. There was no colored sportswear for men. Our colors got pretty outrageous, but they also served a function.
You want colorful clothes just for your own mental health. We sold a lot of those rugby shirts. Bywe had launched a new brand, Patagonia, to focus on our growing clothing business.The full case study details the salient parts of Patagonia’s strategy, is based upon many hours of desk-based research and contact, and provides productive and useful insight which readers from any variety of industries and sizes will find applicable.
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