Editor’s Note: “Don’t buy this jacket.”
Those words are awfully counterintuitive for a business that makes and sells clothing, but outdoor clothing company Patagonia ran that directive as part of a widespread ad campaign. “We want to do the opposite of every other business today,” its website reads. “We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”
Indeed, Patagonia has fashioned itself as anti-consumption and green, going as far as to offer free repairs to reduce its footprint.
At one of its repair centers, economics correspondent Paul Solman spoke with Cathy Averett, a clothing repair technician for Patagonia. Averett was part of a Patagonia team of tailors that took a “worn wear” bus tour across the country, fixing up beat-up jackets at stops along the way. She spoke to Paul about her conversion to Patagonia’s way of thinking.
Paul’s conversation with Averett has been edited and condensed for clarity and length below. Tune into tonight’s Making Sen$e, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour, to learn more about this company’s unusual business model.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
Cathy Averett: I am going to patch a pair of corduroy pants that I got today. Are you guys sitting down? Because this is pretty horrifying. So I cut a piece of fabric off some old corduroy jeans that we had here. Now I’m just trying to go with the grain.
Paul Solman: Now I’ve had probably hundreds of pairs of corduroys, pretty much that color, actually, in the course of my life. It has never occurred to me to get them fixed.
Cathy Averett: I get that. I do too. I have a bunch of them at home and now that I’ve worked here, I know that it can be done. But it does take some patience, and — we just don’t slap a patch on and we’re done. We actually do surgery. I feel like I’m Dr. Averett sometimes. And it’s kind of challenging, and it’s fun. It’s like a puzzle.
Paul Solman: But the only reason I can imagine for getting them patched as opposed to buying a new pair of corduroys is it’s like a badge of honor or something.
Cathy Averett: That’s a great way to think of it. Wouldn’t you like to have a closet full of clothes that had all these badges all over them? You have some kind of memory attached to this pair of pants. Or this shirt or jacket, you know? So when I get something like this, I do my best to make it kind of special. It doesn’t look new but so what. I don’t look new anymore. It’s okay.
Paul Solman: And are you a champion of the Patagonia way: buy less so that we have a cleaner planet?
Cathy Averett: I’m going to tell you the truth. When I first started here I was excited — oh, Patagonia man, they’ve got good stuff, I bet they’ve got a good employee discount, I can’t wait to work here. I could never afford to buy it. I thought I could get me some Patagonia. And I did, I started buying some Patagonia. I have a few pieces now. But after I went on the worn wear tour, I’ve changed my way of thinking. I cleaned out my closet, and I was so surprised. I had a mountain of clothes that I did not wear. And I thought, I’m only going to buy what I need. I’m not going to have all this extra stuff. It doesn’t make sense. So yeah, I’m a believer. I walk the walk. Talk the talk.
Paul Solman: What’s your favorite story from the tour you did?
Cathy Averett: My favorite stop was at Smith Rock Park in Oregon. Not only was it just spectacularly beautiful, and I couldn’t have wished to sew in a better spot in the world, but I had this opportunity to meet Patagonia climbing ambassador Mikey Schaefer. And he brought with him this jacket, this coat. I have it with me. The condition of this jacket was the absolutely worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It had all these black sewn-on patches, like I can’t even explain it, it was so ugly. And he says, this jacket went to that peak on the Patagonia label. It went to Fitzroy. He says he was climbing up the mountain, and this guy, this young man, was climbing down wearing this jacket, all nasty, tore-up, beat-up. And Mikey had a brand new Patagonia jacket. Mikey’s a nice guy, so he felt for the guy, and he says I’ll trade you. So Mikey gives him his new jacket, and he takes the old beat-up one. And he brings it to us at the event at Smith Rock Park. I don’t think he intended for us to fix it. But I was so inspired by that story that I said, “You know what Mikey, I’m going to give it nine more lives. I’m going to bring it home. I’m going to tune this son of a gun up.” I did one arm already. But it took me a long time. So it might be a few more months.
Paul Solman: Wait a minute, you’re doing this on your own time?
Cathy Averett: Yeah, I am. I call it my labor of love. I promised him I’d do it. I’m doing it. If it’s the last thing I do on this earth, this thing is going to get done.