No fabric is safe

1:24 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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I was reading the new Patagonia catalog my eight year old just received in the mail (a Tommy Caldwell article) and saw that Patagonia just found a new way to make cotton more expensive.

It seems like they ran out of new super-fabrics to price through the roof and decided to set their sights on humble cotton.  Of course cotton has a limited place in the outdoors enthusiast's quiver of fabric but cotton has always been nice because it is so affordable and tough. 

Now cotton has even been branded as Patagonia now deems their cotton "more responsible" and therefore more valuable of course than mortal cotton.  I understand their reasoning; who wouldn't want to be able to distinguish their product from the competition, but its just sad. 

Even if one grants their assumption (I don't) that their cotton is better for the Earth, its frustrating.  Is there no market distinction that is good for the world that REDUCES the cost of the material?  The answer to that question makes me skeptical of this new effort as something more than a profit-centered ploy.

All I can do is vote with my wallet.  Its a small vote.

Jeff

Their assertion:

http://www.patagonia.com/eu/enGB/patagonia.go?assetid=9023

1:26 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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Patagonia has a large facility in Reno.  They are masters of marketing and making something out of nothing.  They are also good neighbors and make products that last.

7:05 p.m. on March 4, 2013 (EST)
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they don't call them patagucci for nothing!

1:34 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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I watched a speech given by Chouinard and one of the topics he mentioned was organic cotton versus non-organic cotton.  Chouinard made a very convincing argument for the use of organic cotton due to the environmental impact difference between the two fabrics.  Expensive, perhaps over priced, brilliantly marketed, well designed, stand behind their products, good corporate citizens - all are true.  I love their stuff, but I never pay retail.

4:52 p.m. on March 5, 2013 (EST)
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Eddie Bauer cotton work pants are 12 oz canvas.  patagonia makes work pants out of 10 oz organic cotton.   if i were to purchase either of these, online, right now, each pair would cost 60-65 bucks.  the patagonia pants normally retail for about 10 dollars more than the eddie bauer.  if i were going to purchase a comparable pair of Levi jeans today, they retail for 68 bucks. 

my thought is that you should figure out what you like first.  what fits best, what looks best, what functions best, whatever criteria is most important to you.

second, independent of marketing and hype, shop intelligently.  don't buy on impulse, wait for them to go on sale...and they always do.

third, don't worry about one pair costing a few dollars more than the other.  even worn hard, any of these should last for a number of years.  if you amortize the price differential over several years, it really doesn't matter.  

i can't speak to the merits of organic cotton, but i have two pair of patagonia cotton work pants.  one is about 10 years old and starting to fray in places, the other is about 2 years old and probably organic.  i like them; i'm sure there are good alternatives available.     

12:06 p.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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alan said:

I watched a speech given by Chouinard and one of the topics he mentioned was organic cotton versus non-organic cotton.  Chouinard made a very convincing argument for the use of organic cotton due to the environmental impact difference between the two fabrics.  Expensive, perhaps over priced, brilliantly marketed, well designed, stand behind their products, good corporate citizens - all are true.  I love their stuff, but I never pay retail.

 Agreed.  I've watched [probably] the same video and read his Let My People Go Surfing book.  Also caught the documentary on his group's climbing adventure.  I like him.  I appreciate how he runs his business.  Is it perfect?  Nope.  Do I like his business model and approach more than most others I've heard?  Yep.  He has an interesting way of looking at manufacturing and R&D.  His buddies are the same way.  They do an admirable job of putting their own money where their mouths are.  Maybe that isn't worthy of special consideration in years past, but in 2013, I feel it is.  Are they perfect?  Nope, they're humans with virtues and flaws.

(small discussion about Chouinard in the Arcteryx thread a few days ago, too)

A little story...

After reading the book, I went about buying my very first Patagonia product.  I had me judgments about them, too.  Avoided and scoffed at those who didn't.  So I bought four pairs of pants on sale.  They came from a non-Patagonia outfit.  When I received them, they must have been sitting in a sunny window, because they all had a fade down a fold.  The store wouldn't stand behind them because they were a sale item.  I emailed Patagonia, and they issued me a call # to return them.  Within a couple weeks, they had issued me a FULL RETAIL gift card.  They never asked how much I paid for them.  They didn't give me any hassle.  I realized this is yet another reason their products are more pricey than most.  If someone can buy a product for $25 and then receive $50 credit, no questions asked, then they are willing to throw some money around in order to honor their guarantee.  Smart business?  I'm not sure.  Doesn't seem like it.  Good business?  Yes, because they're building loyalty with me.  Do textile retailers pay pennies on the dollars for their product, so they should be able to do this kind of thing and not get patted on the back?  Yes, I understand the situation just fine.  Do most retails in 2013 follow this same process?  Not from my experience.

If true...IF TRUE...I like what Chouinard is doing with his company.  I'll pay the extra money to support someone with similar values.  I'm not much of a consumer.  I don't buy a lot of new stuff.  When I do, it will be with companies like Patagonia.

12:40 p.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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All I can do is vote with my wallet.  Its a small vote.

The first 'organic' (AKA: how stuff used to be grown) t-shirts I ever bought were from a shopping mall in the USA, some kind of 'nature' store; they were a reasonable price and that was 20 years ago.

Today you can buy fairtrade and organic t-shirts and underwear in the supermarkets in the UK, as well as some childrens' school uniforms. Organic jeans are getting fashionable as well.

Right now you can buy an organic t-shirt for 10 GBP and even an organic linen suit for 235 GBP (John Lewis - worker-owned dept. store). As they say, "Live Simply".

And if that wasn't enough to persuade you as a parent, how about some fear:

Why buy safe fabrics for your children – isn’t organic food enough?


;-)

1:02 p.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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Patagonia isn't just organic, either.  They do their best to not ship each process around the world and keep it in a minimal number factories from start to finish.  The fuel footprint on textiles appears to be quite significant.  Dying processes are extremely hazardous as well.  Sure, you can dye cotton in Bangladesh for $.0072/yard so someone in the USA can buy an organic cotton jean at Old Navy for $20, but the people of Bangladesh are picking up the bill for the cheaper organic cotton.  In other words, you get the jean for $20, while the community that made it is picking up the other $20 (for example, $40 for a similar jean from Patagonia) in environmental hazard, poor wages, etc.  Far too oversimplified, but there is no free ride in a global economy.  After everything is considered, that Old Navy jean also cost $40.  The American buyer just isn't the one paying the full $40. The $20 is absorbed somewhere else in the chain.  Hey, it's a dog-eat-dog world.  I get it.  You're going to buy the $20 jean because you can.  That's not the world I want to live in or propagate.  We can advance in more ways than technology, and I'd like to support that direction.

2:15 p.m. on March 6, 2013 (EST)
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I agree with your sentiments, Zeno. I would like to see production moved to consumer countries for the same reasons (with site-to-sell incentives etc). The West, US and Europe, has much higher standards when it comes to dealing with the "externalities" that you describe. This extra cost could be absorbed by customers who already demonstrate a willingness to pay more for distinguishing products.

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