Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard says that Patagonia is "an experiment in doing business in unconventional ways." Chouinard calls himself the "reluctant businessman" because, as a dirtbag Californian rock climber and surfer, he's never liked corporations or the kind of employees they tend to hire. But, success came to him all the same, when in 1957, discontent with the soft European pitons that had to be left in place once hammered into the rock that conflicted with the "leave no trace" ethic of American nature writers like John Muir, Chouinard bought a coal-fired forge and started to make stiffer, harder pitons that could be removed without breaking. In 1973, Chouinard founded Patagonia, and innovation continued: Patagonia produced the first synthetic fleece "Synchilla" jacket that, unlike conventional cotton and wool fleeces, was resistant to water as well as the performance baselayer fabric known as Capilene, informing customers of the new concept of "layering" in their catalogues. In 1991, however, the company faced an identity crisis: forced to let 120 employees go after a drop in sales ("Black Wednesday", as Chouinard calls it), Chouinard took a dozen of his top managers to the real Patagonia, where they decided on a set of philosophies that would guide all future decisions made within the company. Rather than be a company whose primary goals are "expansion and short-term profit", Patagonia would be concerned first with "quality, sustainability, environmental and human health, and successful communities." It is this guiding philosophy that initiated the company decision to donate 1% of all sales to grassroots environmental organisations ($74 million thus far, with Chouinard starting the 1% For the Planet organisation for all business to join), as well as in 1996, after seeing first-hand the toxic effects of pesticides and other artificial agricultural methods on both the environment and workers in the production of cotton, Patagonia went completely organic, supporting small farms that grow the natural way.
Patagonia now produce outdoor clothing of all kinds, including climbing pants, down and waterproof jackets, fleeces, baselayers, and t-shirts, all under their mission statement: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."