Do you wear Patagonia?
Do you stalk Patagonia fleece pullovers from the '80s on Ebay at least once a week?
Okay, so maybe I’m the only one that does the second one. But chances are, if you’re a Northwestern student, you probably know someone who owns a Patagonia item or own one yourself, whether it’s their famous Synchilla fleeces, brightly colored backpacks or swag-tastic hats.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Patagonia's owner/founder Yvon Chouinard, makes me feel great about Patagonia’s success. Because of Chouinard’s vision, Patagonia has maintained the basic tenets on which it was founded: Environmental sustainability, quality clothing using recycled or recyclable product and employee health and freedom (which means everything from being able to walk around the office barefoot to taking off a few months to hike the Teton Crest Trail).
Chouinard divides his book into sections. First, he talks about his personal life, through childhood up until the present. In the second half, he describes Patagonia as a brand — its philosophies, products, employees and plans for the future. Patagonia constantly has new environmental initiatives to which they donate a portion of their profits, as well as promoting and raising awareness (its current project, Our Common Waters, focuses on the need to balance human water consumption with that of animals and plants). He writes in very simple, unassuming prose, which works well, as the incredible story of he and his company doesn’t need a particularly interesting tone or style to make it worth reading.
Chouinard’s French-Canadian family moved to California when he was in middle school. Not the best student, Chouinard preferred to bicycle, swim, climb and bird watch. He began to make his own pitons to climb on, teaching himself blacksmithing as he went along. Selling his handmade gear out of the back of his truck eventually turned into Patagonia Inc., something Chouinard wasn’t expecting in the least. But as Patagonia grew, he began to embrace a larger business.
“I’ve been a businessman for almost fifty years,” writes Chouinard. “It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit being an alcoholic or a lawyer.” Chouinard’s description of starting and growing a business was constantly peppered with anti-business sentiment. He believes that businesses are to blame for a majority of the destruction of nature but simultaneously qualifies that businesses can enact positive social and environmental change.
Let My People Go Surfing describes the founding and evolution of the latter kind of business. After reading it, you’ll think a bit more every time you pull on that Patagonia fleece — or maybe even check out if Patagonia Inc. is on CareerCat. After all, who wouldn’t want their employer to think it’s important to get out of the office and go surfing?
Worth it? Yes. Especially as college students about to enter the working world, Chouinard’s unique perspective on business and life is especially relevant.
Time taken: I read it on two bus rides to Chicago and back. Almost every page has a picture on it, mostly of sweet mountain ranges. How can you lose?