September 15, 2022
By Ross Purnell
Yvon Chouinard started in the outdoor world with an interest in falconry. He became one of the world’s leading climbers (ice and rock) and later started manufacturing climbing equipment because he couldn’t buy what he needed. Soon his friends and peers wanted to buy the gear, and before he knew it, he was also importing apparel under the brand name Patagonia.
Chouinard is also a masterful surfer, and a passionate fly fisher. I have fished with him on remote rivers in British Columbia and hiked far into the Wyoming wilderness just to catch rare and beautiful golden trout. He cares deeply about these resources, and about our environment which is being abused on all fronts by forces like climate change, dams that block migrating fish and create warm cesspools of toxic algae, and hatcheries and that pour genetically inferior fish into our rivers. They are often meant to “mitigate” the damage done by dams, but the reality is that hatcheries exacerbate the damage from the dams and make us blind to what’s actually happening to our wild fish.
Chouinard took a particular interest in Tenkara fishing, a style of fly fishing that uses a fixed-length line attached to the tip of a long rod and no reel. He even wrote the book about Tenkara fishing called Simple Fly Fishing, with Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo.
By his own admission, Chouinard never wanted to be a businessman, but he ended up owning one of the most successful brands in the outdoor space. Even after years of running ads saying “don’t buy this jacket” people still bought the jackets, and the pants, and the waders, and his business grew to reported sales of about $1 billion annually.
Now, he’s decided to give that all away, not to his two children who are independently happy and successful, but to the planet. In his own writing, Chouinard explained, “The earth is now our only shareholder.”
On Sept. 14, 2022, he transferred 100% of the company’s voting stock to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock went to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia.
“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’ Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth,” Chouinard explained. “It’s been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business, and we are just getting started. If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a thriving business—50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is another way we’ve found to do our part.
“Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits. But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it.”
You can read his whole letter here.
Ross Purnell is Fly Fisherman magazine’s editor and publisher.