said, “Oh God, I knew it would come to this.”
I’m trying to figure out how to make Patagonia act like a small company again.
How do you stop growth? There is a book
from the Henokiens, an organization of companies that have been in business for 200
years minimum. Of course there are hardly
any American companies; they are either
Japanese or European. How are they able to
stay in business for 200 years? Well, they
couldn’t grow 15% a year for 200 years, let
me tell you that. [Laughs] They were able to
diversify, and they’re not the same company
as when they started. Some of them started
out as a blacksmith’s shop, like I did. But they
have purposely held back on growth for the
sake of longevity.
What do you make of proposals like the
Green New Deal? Is that encouraging?
It is, absolutely. I’m an avowed socialist. I’m
proud of it. That was a dirty word just a few
years ago until Bernie Sanders brought it
up. It was equated with communism and
that whole thing. Yet the countries around
the world that are most squared away are all
socialistic countries like those in Scandinavia. I’m not talking about Venezuela, which
is a disaster. That’s not a socialistic country.
That’s a . . . I don’t know what.
What role can businesses like Patago-
nia play in advocating for that national
mobilization effort to save the planet
and change how we work in the process?
We’re keeping quiet in the primary election,
but for the national presidential election,
we’re going to be very, very active. We’re going to spend a lot of money and basically say,
vote the climate deniers out. Anyone who is
a climate denier or even on the fence, vote
them out because they are evil. They are out
to destroy our planet, and we’re not going to
stand for it. We got involved in the last election and we helped elect a couple of senators
in Montana and Nevada. I had no idea how
much power we really have.
That was the first time Patagonia pushed
for and supported individual candi-
dates. What were the lessons out of that
experience? They were going to be close
races, and I’ve heard from them both that
we made the difference. When we have that
amount of power, let’s use it. Because the op-
position is using it. You’ve got the Koch fam-
ily and the fossil-fuel companies: They’re
going to be influencing the elections. We’ve
got to do the same thing.
You mentioned Artifishal. Even with Patagonia’s smaller, shorter films—I liked
[surfer] Dave Rastovich’s Saving Martha, on Tasmanian fish farms—there’s
an aspect of fun with them, whether
it’s surfing or climbing, combined with
activism for the causes you believe in.
Over the last number of years, you’ve
invested more in that kind of storytelling to get these issues across to people
in a way that’s engaging. I don’t want to
call it marketing, but has this become a
much bigger part of the company? Well,
that’s for sure. We’ve got a propaganda machine going. After we were involved in this
film 180 Degrees South [a 2010 documentary
retracing Chouinard’s 1968 journey from
Ventura, California, to Patagonia, Chile] and
then DamNation [Patagonia’s 2014 movie
about the damage dams can do], we realized
the power that we have in film. I had no idea.
With DamNation, we got the whole Obama
administration to rethink hydropower. They
no longer considered it green energy. Now
it’s back, of course, with Trump, but that was
it; they said hydropower is not green energy
and that was as a result of our film. We recognize that people make decisions based
on emotion, and the best way to elicit emotion is through film. It’s not through books
or catalogs or speeches. So we’re in the film
business. We’re working on 10 films at a time
these days. Some of them don’t make a cent.
But that’s not the purpose.
A lot of people look at you as an inspira-
tional figure, but who inspires you? Who
is Yvon Chouinard’s Yvon Chouinard?
[Laughs] Well, I think . . . I don’t know. There
are a few people around the world who are
doing really great stuff. Huey Johnson, who
has a nonprofit in Marin County, in San
Francisco, has been around a long time. He
started Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land,
and he’s got an organization called Resource
Renewal Institute. The guy never gives up.
He is an optimist. I’m a pessimist. He’s been
an inspiration. [Environmentalist] David
Brower. [Oceanographer] Sylvia Earle. Jane
Goodall is trying to save her chimpanzees,
and they’re on their way out. It’s like Friends
of the Polar Bear. Forget about trying to save
the polar bear; you gotta save the planet to
save the polar bear. That’s depressing stuff,
but they hang in there. Goodall is on the
road 360-something days a year. It kills me
to spend just a few days. I just got back from
Labrador and oh my God, I mean . . .
That’s far from Wyoming. Getting back
from Labrador to Jackson Hole was an effort. I ran from one end of the Boston airport
to the other, because my plane from Halifax
was late. I passed 36 gates, and they weren’t
in a row. They were in different terminals. I
practically had a heart attack. [Laughs] And
get this: I get to the gate, and they’ve shut it
down. The plane is ready to take off. There’s
a guy there who says, “Hey, I know who you
are. I told them to keep the gate open for just
a couple minutes more. I knew you were
gonna be coming.” And they did, and they
got me on. The guy says, “Hey, I’m a cinematographer. I know all about all the films
you make. Keep up the good work.” And he
walked away. I thought, Jesus, this guy is an
angel. [Laughs] That’s the karmic kickback
I’m talking about.
We’re doing a big back- sliding with this Trump administration, but they’ll be gone in another year or so. I’m convinced of that.”