Outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia is always on the verge of something new and daring. Its latest endeavor, launched on Black Friday, is to encourage customers to buy secondhand versions of items they are considering getting new. The company is doing this by adding a “buy used” option next to every new product listed on patagonia.com.
The used items come from Patagonia’s Worn Wear program, which has operated for years – first as a pop-up event where people could bring used Patagonia items for repair or exchange, and more recently as a permanent online store, where customers can resell their old goods for cash or store credit and shop for used items. It’s essentially Patagonia’s own thrift store.
While patagonia.com and Worn Wear will continue to exist as separate websites, adding the “buy used” button to the main Patagonia site now links the two in an unprecedented way. Not only does it make it easier to opt for a used version of an item (and convenience is crucial if people are going to follow through), but it normalizes the idea of buying secondhand in a way that it hasn’t been up until now. The fact that the secondhand option is provided by Patagonia itself is comforting to some shoppers who may feel skeptical about an item’s quality and condition; this adds legitimacy and confidence to the purchase.
In an op-ed for Medium, Patagonia’s CEO Ryan Gellert explained why wearing secondhand clothes is an environmental act and what Patagonia has been doing to make it more accessible to shoppers:
“Buying a used garment extends its life on average by 2.2 years, which reduces its carbon, waste and water footprint by 73 percent. From fixing a patch on your favorite jacket to replacing a busted zipper, each of these individual actions could give us a better chance of living on a habitable planet in years to come. We currently have 35 repair centers around the world, including our Reno, Nevada facility, one of the biggest repair centers in North America. In fact, last year we fixed more than 100,000 pieces of clothing globally and helped you to fix many more yourself, with over 50 online repair guides.”
One could argue easily that the greenest article of clothing is the one that already exists. It eliminates demand for virgin resources and plastic packaging, and it diverts textiles from landfill. We’re far too enamored of innovative fabrics and complex technical solutions to the environmental disaster that is the apparel industry when, really, what we should be doing is wearing and rewearing until clothes wear out. The problem is that it can be hard to repair properly, but when a brand takes responsibility for its own clothing and offers that service (similar to what the Renewal Workshop is doing on behalf of many brands), it becomes far more appealing and accessible. By extension, this acts as an incentive for companies to build better clothes and create an effective post-consumer collection method.
Patagonia says it is the first apparel brand to sell used products alongside new – a radical move that isn’t surprising coming from a company that made headlines in 2011 for its full-page ad in the New York Times that told people, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” In an effort to combat superfluous consumerism, that now-famous ad urged people to reevaluate whether they really needed to make the purchase and to avoid buying if the answer was no.
Subsequent campaigns have included donating 100% of Black Friday sales in 2016 to environmental non-profit groups (which totaled an impressive $10 million) and, in 2019, matching all donations between Black Friday and December 31 to environmental non-profits through the Patagonia Action Works program.
It’s a good time for Patagonia to launch this “buy used” initiative. People are getting outdoors more than ever – a rare silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, one might say – and are looking to stock up on gear that they may not have purchased otherwise. At the same time, perceptions of fashion and clothing have shifted significantly in the past year, with more people saying they’re willing to wear clothes for longer and make do with what they have. (Read “The Rise of the Divided Closet” for more on that.) Patagonia is smart to jump aboard this trend, but the move isn’t surprising. This is a brand that’s always been ahead of its time.