Patagonia's Ryan Gellert: "Customers are more engaged with making conscious purchase decisions"
High-end outdoor brand Patagonia is known for its holistic sustainable approach with a particular emphasis on the common good. Traditionally investing in NGOs, it has a clearly-stated position on recent US governmental actions.
In conversation with Ryan Gellert, General Manager for EMEA, FashionNetwork.com discovered how this corporate culture comes to light in Europe, one of the brand’s strongest markets outside of the US, and what its plans are for the future.
FashionNetwork.com: How big is the European share of your global sales today? In general, how important is that market for Patagonia in the future and why?
Ryan Gellert: Our European business is roughly 10 per cent of global (Editor's note: global revenue is approximately $600m). That said, we continue to see very healthy, double digit growth in this part of the world. We currently have around 1,200 wholesale doors, eight retail stores and 12 partner stores, across Europe.
As a global business, we see Europe as a very important region for Patagonia in light of both its history of outdoor sport and many examples of progressive thinking on issues of sustainability. One of our goals in the region is to open roughly two stores per year, beginning this year. While this is a fairly modest pace, we feel that each store should offer something unique to the community within which it exists. The ideal balance regarding locations is a mix of authentic sports communities and urban areas where we can support NGOs and individuals working to implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
FNW: Any plans for the European market in 2018 that our readers should know about?
RG: We want to continue to use our business to provide leadership on the issues that are most important to our community of users. As an example, we have been supporting a group of activists and NGOs in helping to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, which are located in the Balkan Peninsula. There are nearly 3,000 hydropower projects under development and planning across the region. These are the last wild rivers in all of Europe and should be important to anyone who cares about protecting fragile ecosystems and maintaining wild areas here on the continent.
From a business point of view, I’d like to open at least one new retail location in Germany this year to go with our existing Munich store, which has been open for 25 years. We also look forward to continuing to work with our wholesale partners to host events and amplify stories such as the Blue Heart campaign.
FNW: How has the international outdoor market changed in the last few years and why? How have you reacted to that?
RG: One of the things that has changed is that customers are more engaged with making conscious purchase decisions and are demanding more from the brands they support in the way of sustainability and fair labour. Social media and digital communication help to facilitate this. We see this as a positive step - although we hope that this is a new norm, rather than a trend.
As a brand, building the best product has always been at the core of what we do and function is still as important as ever to our customers. We converted to 100 per cent organic cotton, throughout the line, back in 1995, and know customers look to us for leadership on these issues. We are now having far more conversations, and at a deeper level, on issues such as how our products are made, where, under which conditions and sourcing and provenance of materials.
Our Fair Trade campaign last season was a great example of this. We now have more styles and products made in Fair Trade Certified factories than any other apparel or home goods brand. That’s 480 Fair Trade styles, made in 14 different factories. And customers have responded incredibly positively to this, sharing our Fair Trade campaign with their social networks, attending live events across Europe and letting us know that supporting the people behind the product is important to them.
FNW: With regards to Worn Wear: Is that concept quantifiable?
RG: Worn Wear is really about changing our relationship with stuff, with the things we own. If we can inspire more people to be thoughtful owners of the things they need, rather than fast consumers (and disposers of goods), then we will have made a positive impact, whether that is quantifiable or not. That said, over the past 24 months, here in Europe, we have made nearly 200 stops on our Worn Wear tour across a dozen countries, both repairing Patagonia and other brands’ product for free and teaching our customers how to handle simple repairs themselves.
This January we launched the new Worn Wear trailer, a bespoke wooden trailer, and the Worn Wear Snow Tour, bringing our tailors to over 28 snow destinations across Europe, to offer skiers and snowboarders free repairs on busted zippers, rips, tears, buttons, pulls and more, as well as teaching people how to fix their own gear. For the first time, it also offers technical repairs on GORE-TEX® garments.
FNW: Time to look into the crystal ball: How will the outdoor industry change in the future regarding style, production practices and retail? What challenges will you have to face?
RG: The laws of commercial gravity apply to Patagonia in the same way that they apply to every apparel brand. There is a consistent and steady shift to digital communication, online shopping and customers increasingly waiting to buy product closer to the time they plan to use it. There is also the increased demand for transparency and accountability that we discussed earlier.
I think the bigger trend – and the one that as humans and as the outdoor industry we have been slow to adjust to – is the fact that we are currently using 1.5 times the resources that our planet can restore. You don’t need an MBA to know that this is unsustainable. To achieve true sustainability, we are going to have to adjust our buying behaviour, our individual businesses and our industries, to accommodate what we consider an inevitable and healthy reduction in global consumption. I would like to see the outdoor industry take a stronger leadership position in making this transition, given our passion for the outdoors and the fact that our businesses rely on a healthy planet.
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