Before attending Bucknell, I was not clued in to the preppy brand clothing that now consumes my closet. As a small-town girl from Jersey, I relied on my non-nondescript yoga pants and athletic t-shirts for everyday fashion. I experienced a rude awakening when I stepped on campus and was overwhelmed by this Vineyard Vines, J. Crew and Lilly Pulitzer world. And I embraced it. However, I was never really conscious of the organization behind the sweater. That’s why it was nice to read a post entitled “Patagonia Founder Reaches a New Peak and Challenges Others to Follow” on the blog BrownFlynn SustainGenuity: Conversations about sustainable business innovation. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard recently received the 2013 Inamori Ethics Prize, which “honors leaders whose integrity, altruism, and compassion have a lasting impact on society”.
The post describes how Chouinard responded to employees’ complaints of headaches and then learned of dangerous chemicals involved in the clothing production. “Chouinard pushed to find an alternative fiber that did not use toxic additives. This included visiting cotton farmers in the central valley of California, financing their transition to organic farming and testing new dyes. As Patagonia blazed the trail for the creation of the organic cotton industry, it continued to take a stand for what is right for this generation and many to come.”
As I think of these typical Bucknell brand names, I often roll my eyes. It seems I have just conformed to the wealthy East-coast culture of $200 fleeces and glossy rain boots. However, in reading this I have some peace of mind. While Chouinard added to the organic cotton revolution and safer working conditions, he did something more. Regardless of your view on organic versus inorganic cotton, we can all pause to appreciate one man’s vision and determination for more corporate responsibility and sustainability. I am not denying that there may be more to the story, and if Mike Daisey’s podcast taught me anything, it’s to be more skeptical. However, I marvel in this man’s impact. A brand that I had no connection to now means so much more to me. Patagonia is a dream realized where organic cotton was chosen specifically to make employee’s lives better and where one person’s love for adventure and outdoors was harvested into a tangible product.
At the close of Chouinard’s acceptance speech, he implored the audience to take control, “ ‘We [Americans] are addicted to consuming. If we can change ourselves, corporations will change and the government will follow’ “. I do not own a Patagonia anything, but the next time I am looking for a comfy winter fleece I might just have to spend that extra money and buy some corporate responsibility instead of the usual my impersonal purchase.