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THE RELUCTANT BILLIONAIRES? – How two men who didn’t like business started The North Face and Patagonia.

FastTrack | 60-second read

“We’re going to make our product with the smallest footprint possible, but it is a footprint.” Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's Vice President of Environmental Initiatives

Doug Tompkins, co-founder of The North Face, and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, were, according to The Guardian, “lifelong friends and brothers in adventure.”

The two men began as Californian climbing and surfing enthusiasts before starting their own hugely successful outdoor companies. Tompkins opened the first The North Face retail store selling mountaineering equipment in San Francisco in 1966. Chouinard began by making his own climbing equipment in the late ‘50s.

But besides Tompkins and Chouinard’s shared love of the great outdoors they had something else in common. A commitment to saving the planet.

“Evil always wins if we do nothing,” writes Chouinard in his book ‘Let My People Go Surfing.’ Perhaps that’s why Patagonia’s ecological philosophy is all about doing something?

It’s fair to say, then, that the founders of both Patagonia and North Face were slightly uncomfortable about the business of being in business. A dilemma both brands – now billion-dollar companies – seem to still wrestle with. As Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's Vice President of Environmental Initiatives, says “We’re going to make our product with the smallest footprint possible, but it is a footprint.”

And, at one point, Patagonia’s website went further: “We design and sell things made to last and be useful. But we ask our customers not to buy from us what you don’t need or can’t really use. Everything we make – everything anyone makes – costs the planet more than it gives back.”

Despite this, according to research company StatSocial “North Face is the U.S. market leader in the outdoor clothing and accessories sector.” And Patagonia is not far behind them.

Not bad going for two somewhat reluctant businessmen who were united by a passion for adventure.

Extract from Human Capital – Drayton’s business magazine.

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