In conversation: Dane O'Shanassy on Patagonia's moral compass and commercial success

When it comes to identifying as an "activist company", Patagonia walks the talk. And it does it so bloody well.

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In 2019 alone, the global outdoor retailer made headlines for: launching its first worn wear pop-up store in Colorado, preparing to challenge Trump's administration's new Endangered Species Act regulations, shutting its stores worldwide on September 20 in support of the school climate strike and supporting the protection of the Great Australian Bight against oil drilling.

Caring for the environment and activism have always been an integral part of Patagonia's DNA. The 46-year-old company was founded by Yvon Chouinard. A mountain climber himself he scaled Fitz Roy and El Capitan in the 1960s before building the company and transforming it into a $1 billion global brand.

And lately, it has been solidifying its presence in the Australian market. We have had Patagonia stores in Australia since 2009 – in Torquay, Byron Bay, Sydney and Burleigh Heads, as well as outlet stores in Geelong and Fitzroy. All operating (and continuing to operate) before the Melbourne store opened late last year.

General manager of Patagonia Australia Dane O'Shanassy is our Pause Fest speaker. We caught up with him for a quick chat to understand how the business balances purpose and activism while maintaining commercial success.

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Thanks for chatting to us Dane. Give us a quick background about yourself and how you became part of the Patagonia family.

I joined Patagonia about seven years ago after being a stay-at-home dad for a year. My career has been in clothing mostly, and I'm interested in the supply chain - the sourcing and manufacturing of garments. I was employed at Patagonia on a small marketing project at first, but saw a couple of opportunities for growth and was given the green light by the head office to run with them. The team here in Australia (we're in Torquay!) has grown since I started. There were only six of us, and now there's 35!

It's impressive to see how Patagonia's values about the environment and community have held firm over the years. As a retailer, how do you translate your values and purpose with conviction?

I cannot stress this enough. We pride in being transparent. One of our values is to cause no unnecessary harm; we know what we do has consequences. But that mission statement helps us to have an honest position. We're not perfect, and we work to improve the process and the impact we have continuously. And that's done through various means such as stakeholder and suppliers' wellbeing, ensuring fair compensation and committing to fair trade regulations.

We work with third parties such as Fair Trade USA and B-Corp to create a culture of accountability. We're saying, don't just trust what we say but look at what these organisations have to say of us.

Patagonia is a billion-dollar company. How do you balance commercial success and doing good?

I believe there's no trade-off between being commercially successful and actually creating a good impact. As a business when you're going down the path, you soon realise that doing good isn't a cost to the company. At Patagonia, we look at the challenges we face, and as we tackle them, we show our customers how and why we do what we do. So say, we're selling a T-shirt for $60 we explicitly explain why the cost - It's organic cotton, it's made ethically, we compensate the manufacturers fairly. We basically tell the story honestly and simply. And that's our brand equity. It's a value add to the business. Not a cost.

We retain that brand equity through our commitment and telling people about what we do. We make high-quality and reliable products; products that are long-lasting and that in itself is a value. Plus, it also reduces the impact on the environment.

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What are some of the key challenges you face as a business?

It's the usual set of problems with any business, plus more because of our commitments. The cost of our goods are approximately 30 percent more than our competitors, and we know that. And therefore, as a business, we have to spend responsibly. For example, our marketing budget is not as extensive as some of our competitors. We rely a lot on our own media or word of mouth. The other challenges are dealing with the consequences of backing things and movements that we stand for. But running a business is not lost on us. We continue to maintain our organic growth.

Finally, what's next for Patagonia?

Our business continues to grow. We're expecting a continued interest in the brand here in Australia. We also have the New Zealand market in our line of sight, and we intend to take that on in 2020-21. We're not in a race of any kind. We want to grow our impact. And we're lucky to have such a solid foundation and history.


Catch Dane in conversation at Pause Fest 2020.