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If You Want to Build the Next Patagonia, Here's What Not to Do: 'We Realized We Were Turning Everybody Off' Fifty years in, the leaders of the lauded outdoor apparel brand have are sharing lessons in responsible business — which they say is just plain good business — for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

By Frances Dodds

This story appears in the November 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Patagonia

Is your business "making the world a better place"?

It's become a business cliché, because everyone wants to feel good about making money. But if your company didn't start out with an altruistic mission, it can often feel like the incentives are out of whack. But don't write yourself off just yet, says Patagonia's director of philosophy, Vincent Stanley. He wants you to know that even the most celebrated philanthropic business didn't start out that way. "Patagonia was meant to be an easy-to-milk cash cow," he says. "Not a risk-taking, environment-obsessed, navel-gazing company."

Stanley has been with the outdoor apparel brand since 1973, when his uncle, Yvon Chouinard, started it as an offshoot to support his real venture, making rock- climbing equipment. But as Patagonia grew, Stanley says there were "a handful of moments that stunned us into consciousness." One such moment was their discovery that cotton — "what we thought was a natural and therefore virtuous fiber" — was actually the most toxic material to grow. That and other stories are detailed in a new book, The Future of the Responsible Company: What We've Learned from Patagonia's First 50 Years.