Patagonia Sells Ratty Old Swim Trunks Next To Pricy Outdoorwear, And People Are Buying

Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia is now selling used clothing at five of its stores alongside expensive sporting-goods gear like $700 wetsuits, Businessweek reported on Wednesday (Sept. 25).

The "Worn Wear" program, which started in the chain's Portland, Ore., store a year ago, essentially recycles older Patagonia products as part of the chain's "Buy Less" environmental campaign. Last week during Fashion Week in New York City, the California-based chain took out a large ad in the New York Times featuring a pair of surf trunks from 1994 under the headline "Better Than New."

The program is part of the company's effort to sacrifice its profits for the environment, or at least tell consumers it's willing to. In that respect, the green marketing has been a failure: Instead of buying less in the two years since Patagonia started "Buy Less," customers have pushed the chain's annual sales up by almost 38 percent to $575 million. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has estimated sales keep growing by about 15 percent a year.

That opens the chain to claims of hypocrisy, and Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's VP of environmental affairs, knows it. "The growth of our company—and basically every successful company—are overshadowing the benefits we are producing from sustainability initiatives," he said.

But instead of backing away from "Buy Less," the chain is launching a new publicity campaign to highlight its environmental work. Patagonia says it hopes the initiative will get executives to question business models that rely on compound annual growth (basically, every business model in the U.S. economy). But the chain will also continue its trade-in program for used Patagonia clothing for resale—it's more likely to make a dent at that level.

For more:

- See this Businessweek story

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